Movie Review: “GLASS”

“Sixth Sense” writer & director M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological superhero thriller “Glass” (** OUT OF ****) concludes the East Rail 177 Trilogy that his earlier epic “Unbreakable” (2000) launched and his previous outing “Split” (2016) followed.  Better than “Unbreakable,” not as emotionally gratifying as “Split,” “Glass” chronicles the events that ensue after Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) pulled off a vanishing act in “Split.” Meantime, since “Split,” this deranged, multi-personality, serial killer has remained at large in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When “Split” came out, nobody knew Shyamalan would link “Split” to “Unbreakable,” particularly the diners’ comparison of Crumb to Glass.  “Split” introduced moviegoers to Crumb and his ‘Horde’ of 24 personalities that formed a bulwark against the grim reality of his traumatic adolescence.  His sadistic mom, Penelope (Rosemary Howard of “Super Troopers 2”), tortured him, after his father died in a train wreck.  Similarly, one of Crumb’s hostages, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy of “The Witch”) had suffered abuse at the hands of her decadent uncle.  Since “Unbreakable,” the taciturn David Dunn has maintained a low-profile, because he knows the authorities have their eyes on him.  Nevertheless, he still moonlights as a vigilante and uses his superhuman qualities to thwart random street crimes.

In “Glass,” Shyamalan has brought the ultimate villainous mastermind, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”), David Dunn (Bruce Willis of “Armageddon”), and Kevin Crumb together as a psychotic riff on “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Naturally, if you have seen neither “Unbreakable” nor “Split,” you may find yourself at a severe disadvantage where the characters are concerned.  Interestingly, Spencer Clark Treat, who played David Dunn’s young son in “Unbreakable,” reprises his role as Dunn’s adult son Joseph.  Anya Taylor-Joy encores as Casey Cooke, one of Crumb’s abducted high school students who survived ‘the Beast.’  Finally, Charlayne Woodard returns as Mr. Glass’ doting mother.

The first two acts of “Glass” deliver exciting, action-packed drama, bristling with intrigue.  Sadly, the anticlimactic third act doesn’t witness the triumph of good over evil, but a compromise. Comparably, this third act is reminiscent of “Avengers: Infinity Wars.”  Moreover, Shyamalan has said publicly that he has no plans for a fourth film.  Not surprisingly, McAvoy’s hammy, hyperactive performance, as he skips elusively from one personality to another, overshadows his straightforward co-stars.  That’s a whole lot of winking on McAvoy’s part.  By comparison, Mr. Glass and David Dunn appear dull and dreary.

Shyamalan has created a new character for “Glass.”  Creepy, but conscientious, this reserved research psychologist, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson of “Ocean’s Eight”), treats patients afflicted with delusions of grandeur.  Curiously, after admitting all three to Raven Hill Memorial Hospital, Staple points out she has only three days to convince them that they have nothing in common with comic book super heroes.  Shyamalan never justifies this arbitrary 72-hour deadline.  Dr. Staple has tailored their accommodations carefully so nobody can escape.  These scenes generate more excitement than the talky, therapeutic panel discussion about their superhuman powers.  She has incarcerated Crumb and his ‘Horde’ of personalities in a room equipped with banks of blinding strobe lights.  These activate automatically when Crumb crosses a line or behaves in an aggressive manner.  Every time the lights blaze at him, Crumb changes from one personality to another.

Nothing he can do enables him to escape.  Another former trauma victim, football stadium security guard David Dunn, who nearly drowned in a community swimming pool in his youth, confronts similar obstacles.  If David moves too far in his cell, a battery of water nozzles installed in the ceiling is poised to saturate him into submission.  Dr. Staple struggles to convince Dunn that his super heroic manifestations are a byproduct of his near-death experience.  Finally, not only does Staple keep Mr. Glass heavily medicated, but she also orders the installation of additional surveillance cameras, so her staff can keep track of his escapades.

Later, the villainous mastermind reveals to Kevin when he visits him that he is one step ahead of Staple.  Just as Mr. Glass crashed the East Rail 177, so David Dunn would realize his miraculous powers, he is also responsible for Crumb’s warped multiple-personality and the rise of ‘the Beast.’  As it turns out, Kevin’s father, Clarence Crumb (newcomer Bryan McElroy), boarded the same train that Mr. Glass sabotaged, and Clarence died, leaving his poor son in his wife’s treacherous hands.  If you find Mr. Glass’s machinations slightly preposterous, you’re not alone.

Nevertheless, far-fetched as Mr. Glass’ scheme is, the last-minute surprise at the end of “Glass”–is even more outlandish.  In the final quarter hour, after Mr. Glass, David Dunn, and ‘the Beast’ have broken out of the hospital, we learn Dr. Staple’s secret.  Literally, she as well as an anonymous lot of others like her have something up their collective sleeves.  She summons the Philadelphia Police, with their SWAT teams, and watches as they take down Dunn and ‘the Beast.’  ‘The Beast’ locks two female mental hospital attendants into a vehicle, but David releases them once he has bested ‘the Beast.’  Imagine David’s surprise when the SWAT team tackles him as well as ‘the Beast’ to regain control of the situation.  What follows undermines everything before it.  Although our hero and villains prove themselves endowed beyond any doubt with superhuman powers, the ending is dreadfully depressing.

Writer & director M. Night Shyamalan springs not one but several of his usual last-minute surprises. Each has an incredible but gratuitous, tacked-on quality.  Reportedly, according to Shyamalan, this complicated ending was something he had planned as far back as 2000 when he helmed “Unbreakable.” My earlier comparison between the comic book heroes in “Glass” and those in “Avengers: Infinity War” seems too good to be true.  The outcome of David Dunn’s fight with the SWAT team is tragic as is the demise of ‘the Beast.’  Nevertheless, Shyamalan isn’t content to hit us with only two surprises but also a third.  Altogether, the “Unbreakable,” “Split,” and “Glass” trilogy amounts to nothing less than an elaborate but implausible conspiracy thriller!

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