After The Visit revived M. Night Shyamalan’s career in 2015, his next film Split not only met yet more positive reviews — it also promised even more thrills and surprises. The film seemed to end with the escape of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and whose ultimate form demonstrated superhuman abilities. But an unexpected final scene then revealed that Split took place in the same universe as Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero origin story Unbreakable.
Glass, the follow-up to the surprise sequel, thus finds the director handling much richer material than the elegantly minimal premises he is used to. Featuring two superheroes — 25 distinct personalities between them — a wannabe villain in Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), and the possibility of more undiscovered heroes, the film struggles to avoid the pitfalls of narrative exposition.
Its first half is marred by Dr. Ellie Staple’s lengthy explanations in voiceover. A psychiatrist who seeks to demonstrate that superheroes do not exist, she is an intriguing new presence, played with unblinking intensity by Sarah Paulson. But Shyamalan relies on her too much, neglecting the superheroes themselves to such an extent that we come to expect a finale as explosive as its buildup is talkative.
However, after an epic showdown is explicitly hinted at repeatedly throughout the film, Shyamalan’s third act is both frustrating and narratively baffling. Even if conceived as another way for Glass to subvert the clichés of the superhero film, its execution is too awkward to feel astute, too tortured for its audacity to sweep us off our feet.
This final bum note throws into relief the film’s structural problem: caught between the high stakes of a superhero film, and the narrative intricacy that is Shyamalan’s specialty, the film fails at both. When the three supermen finally meet after spending much of the runtime individually locked up, Glass feels like little more than an impromptu photo op.