A casual look at the budgets for the three films which make up Shyamalan's "Superhero" universe says much about the filmmaker's roller-coaster career.
Beginning with the $75 million dollar budgeted Unbreakable in 2000, this was Shyamalan at the peak of his powers. Studios had belief in this new and wildly talented filmmaker, and he tended to deliver when presented with a hefty budget. Split, some 16 years later, was made for only $9 million, representing how cautious most everyone had become after his significant "fall from grace". The sleeper sequel to Unbreakable was a fine thriller that shoe-horned in the link with the previous film in a way which thrilled his fans and gave most pause - because it did nothing to undermine what had come before it. The studio, clearly impressed by this, has more than doubled the budget for Glass, with $20 million being mainlined into Shyamalan's vision.
Sadly, this time around, the studio may come to regret upping the budget, because the chances of a similar return on the wildly successful Split are near non-existent.
Glass is a mess of a film. It has moments of interest and some impressive directorial flourishes, but these pale against a wildly uneven and overly meta script which desperately wants to impress audiences with its (largely unearned) plot twists, while hoping no-one notices the myriad of plot holes undermining much of what is established. Plus, for much of its run time, Glass is a crushing bore, confining its major three characters to a psychiatric facility and having them rarely even communicate with one another.
You see, they're all undergoing "treatment" for their proposed psychiatric disorders - all of which apparently suffer from variations on delusions of grandeur - from Sarah Paulson's Dr. Ellie Staple. She has three days to cure them of these delusions or they will face the full force of what the authorities can throw at them. (Which is plot hole number one, given Mister Glass has been incarcerated for 19 years and no-one has cared enough to do more than thoroughly drug him into a stupour through that time.) Somehow this means that Samuel L Jackson does not even utter a spoken line until the halfway point of the film - which is odd given it is his character whom the film is named for. Not surprisingly then, he gives a more restrained performance than what he is usually known for, which is not a bad thing given who he is acting alongside.
Instead, the film belongs to James McAvoy as 24 different characters inhabiting Kevin Crumb's mind. He chews the scenery effectively, though is not as impressive as he was with his personality changes in Split. And finally, there is Bruce Willis as David Dunn, the man who is "unbreakable" and posses superhuman strength. He's had plenty of practice at playing world-weary, and he does so again here, but at least seems mildly interested in what is happening around him (which is a step up for Bruce in the latter part of his career).
The depiction here of mental health is somehow more offensive than it was in Split, perhaps mainly because Dissociative Identity Disorder is not just as depicted as monstrous but also something that can be cured easily in three days. (Though maybe I'm just being sensitive as this is the field I work in ...)
The major issue with Glass - aside from all the shake-your-head plot holes - is it takes a long time to get all its pieces in place, and then rushes through its third act in a largely unsatisfying manner. Part of the reason for this is that there are a bunch of secondary characters whose presence only muddies the film until its very end (and even then, this could have been very easily written around). Speaking of ends, Split doesn't go for the earth-shattering twist which Shyamalan has long been known for, but it does want to be the smartest movie in the first quarter of the year. Yet none of what occurs in the last 15 minutes feels earned or impressive.
Shyamalan's stubborn insistence to cast himself in a minor role is again in play, and the references to comic books that worked well in Unbreakable are so on the nose here that they become maddening by film's end. For example: there's a magazine cover which prominently features the word "Marvel" in almost the exact same font as that which we're all familiar with, and for the life of me, I can't work out why Shyamalan would do such a thing except as a "clever" nod to the audience. ("See? This is a comic book film! It's always been a comic book film series. Aren't I amazing?!")
Overall, Glass offers a disappointing conclusion to what Shyamalan so impressively set up with the final scene of Split. Expectations should be enthusiastically tempered, even for the hardcore M Night fans out there.