After 19 years M. Night Shyamalan’s has given us “Glass” -- it’s a sort of a climax to a kind of a trilogy that began at the turn of the century with “Unbreakable” and includes “Split,” which was released in 2016. The concept is intriguing but the emotional payoff is negligible, the surprise ending is feeble and the whole enterprise resembles a recycling bin. Still, the film clarifies what Shyamalan has been doing, with variable results, ever since he made his spectacular breakthrough in 1999 with “The Sixth Sense”—combining strong technical skills, consecrated horror tropes and occasionally shrewd dramatic instincts while he recycles his special blend of suffocating solemnity, steady-state sententiousness and a joyless grandiosity that, in turn, seems to have been recycled from Ayn Rand.
“Glass” brings together three prominent characters from the recent and distant past, or, by another count, 26 characters, since one of them, James McAvoy’s Kevin from “Split,” is supposed to have 24 distinct personalities—that’s because of a particularly florid case of dissociative identity disorder. The other two are Bruce Willis’s David Dunn, the savior figure living the humble life of a security guard in “Unbreakable,” and, from the same film, Samuel L. Jackson’s evil mastermind, Elijah Price.
I say the film brings these people together, but that implies more ingenuity than the writing contains. Shyamalan has tossed them together, like ingredients in a chemical retort, or an extremely slow cooker. Ever since the end of “Unbreakable” Elijah has been confined to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. That’s where the other two join him after Kevin at his beastly worst and David at his quasi-holy best cross paths violently on the streets of Philadelphia, where many Shyamalan plots unfold.
The action isn’t confined to the hospital. Good and evil in the persons of David and Kevin—or Kevin’s most savage alter ego—have at each other all over the City of Brotherly Love, with Elijah as the Don King of the piece, promoting their fights and egging them on. The violence gets to be as oppressive as it is repetitive, though no more so than the doomy music, the incessant industrial sounds and the turgid disquisitions on some of the filmmaker’s favorite themes: comic books as repositories of truth; strength born of suffering; the assault on exceptionalism in a time of mediocrity, and the need for strong heroes—David could be an übermensch straight out of Nietzsche, which is not to suggest that he drives for a ride-hailing service.)
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies have often been turgid in a distinctive way, with overtones of lofty sadness, and dramatized deliberately or violently, but seldom spontaneously. This one follows the pattern, for not so good and worse. It’s a lofty letdown.
I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.