I stumbled out of Glass, the third film in the M. Night Shyamalan superhero trilogy that began with Unbreakable, suspicious that I’d just been punked. The movie’s final act, a spectacular implosion of incoherent twists and turns that hijack a functional thriller and drive it off a cliff—playing off the wreckage like a triumph, no less—felt like it had to be a prank. A morbid extension, maybe, of the movie’s meta attempts to deconstruct the superhero-movie machine that has consumed pop culture in the 19 years since Unbreakable. (“Comic books are an obsession!” a character shrieks at one point, while another narrates superhero clichés aloud as they happen, with all the grandeur and insight of lines like, “The collection of main characters!”) A fake-out for sure, pointless but preferable to the confused mess I’d seen, to be unveiled as the ultimate “twist” before the real movie hit theaters today.
But denial is just the first stage of grief and I’ve since cycled through to acceptance. This whole movie, including its catastrophic ending, is real, and they’re charging real money to see it. People who loved Shyamalan’s sterling 2000 film Unbreakable, tantalized by the surprise revelation at the end of 2017’s Split that both films take place in the same universe, will show up to see reluctant hero David Dunn (Bruce Willis), his mastermind arch-nemesis Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), and the amalgam of two-dozen split personalities known as the Horde (James McAvoy) together onscreen for the first (and last) time. Many will leave disgruntled, others bamboozled, eye-twitching and stupefied like the institution-bound title character. I left a conspiracy theorist.
Glass only muddles the ideas Unbreakable and Split surfaced about modern myth-making, trauma, and our minds’ capacities to manifest miracles. It takes its characters nowhere new. (It actively regresses one or two, in fact, insulting them before bowing out.) Shyamalan’s wicked humor, his knack for conjuring wonder and dread from the mundane, his stubborn commitment to zigging where you want him to zag—it’s all here. None of it saves Glass. It can’t seem to decide whether it’s a “fuck you” or a love letter to superhero movies and their audiences. It gestures vaguely at both, satisfying as neither. It does pull off a shock that might have been admirable as a stone-cold statement about IP-driven movie-making, except it’s executed with the lethargy of a deflating balloon, and just as devoid of meaning.
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