Watching Glass is like going to the movies with that one friend who cannot help leaning over to whisper one banal observation after another into your ear, and then leaning back satisfied that he’s just blown your mind.
“In comics, this is referred to as the ‘showdown,'” explains Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) during the climax — assuming, I guess, that no one listening has ever read a comic or seen a movie before.
Glass is M. Night Shyamalan’s sequel to his Unbreakable and Split, and like Unbreakable before it, wants to be a deconstruction of the superhero genre. But where Unbreakable was meticulous, re-examining well-worn tropes through well-drawn characters, Glass is uncontrolled. It doesn’t so much analyze or update those tropes as it does lampshade them, and call it a day.
Perhaps that would’ve been more forgivable in the early 2000s, when Unbreakable was released, before Spider-Man or Nolan’s Batman or the MCU and DCEU. Now, though, it feels downright bizarre for a movie to act as if the same audience that turned Avengers: Infinity War into a $2 billion juggernaut might need a refresher on what Superman is.
Or maybe it’d be easier to tolerate the smug self-referentiality if Glass had anything much else to offer – some larger thesis about the state of superhero cinema or the purpose of comic books, or some compelling characters, or some really cool-looking action, or at the very least a watercooler-worthy final twist.
Instead, Glass spends roughly half its running time re-establishing the basic premise of these movies (essentially, “What if superheroes were real?”) through a new character so insubstantial, I couldn’t tell if she was supposed to be mysterious or just dull. Most of its other half is devoted to that aforementioned showdown, whose most memorable quality is that Mr. Glass won’t shut up during it.
At least James McAvoy is having fun.
At least James McAvoy is having fun. The Split star continues to impress with his ability to switch between the Horde’s many personalities at (literally) the flick of a switch, though the superficial script renders it more of a party trick than a complete performance. The other leads, Jackson and Bruce Willis (as David Dunn), have significantly less to do, and I sincerely hope they’re enjoying the brand-new sports cars their paychecks probably got them.
But the character most emblematic of Glass‘ problems is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the sole surviving victim from Split. Glass largely glosses over who she is, trusting that you’ll remember her, her tragic backstory, and her dealings with the Horde from Split; at the same time, it takes her in a direction that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given what we know of her from Split.
Casey is ultimately pushed into a classic female archetype — which Mr. Glass explicitly spells out, because that’s what he does. It’s one that feels dated and problematic, exactly the kind of thing a shrewd filmmaker might subvert. But Glass has no interest in that. All it wants is for you to know that it knows that trope exists.
Early on in the movie, I had the exciting realization that this was a rare superhero movie that really did feel like anything could happen. None of these characters’ fates were predetermined in decades-old books, and both its predecessors prided themselves on surprising audiences.
As the movie went on, though, it gradually became apparent that Glass has no such ambitions. It’s a superhero movie that seems to believe it’s cleverer than other superhero movies because it calls out the genre’s staples, but in doing so reveals only that it has no real insight into what makes superheroes click — either the characters themselves, or the genre they comprise.
In a twist that would disappoint Mr. Glass more than anything in the world, Glass settles for being barely ordinary, when it could have been something extraordinary.