The conclusion to M. Night Shyamalan's unexpected superhero trilogy feels like a wasted opportunity.
Glass, by director M. Night Shyamalan, concludes a trilogy nobody knew was a trilogy until the final moments of his previous film, Split. What at first had seemed a fun and, at times, disturbing thriller about a split-personality kidnapper (played by a terrific James McAvoy), suddenly presaged an entirely new superhero universe in the vein of Marvel's 'MCU'. Harking all the way back to Shyamalan's 2000 film Unbreakable, Glass is the film designed to bring together the stories of McAvoy's Horde, Bruce Willis's reluctant hero David Dunn and Samuel L Jackson's evil genius Elijah Price. It's a two-decades long project and a gutsy effort to try something new, but the finished product simply fails to live up to the alluring concept.
A quick refresher. Unbreakable brought together two fascinating characters in the form of comic book expert Elijah Price (Jackson) and sports stadium security guard David Dunn (Willis). Dunn is the sole and miraculous survivor of a horrific train crash from which he emerged entirely unscathed. He's a soulful and introverted family man, and it's not until Price contacts him that he realises he's never been sick or injured his entire life. Price, by contrast, is wheelchair bound; a sufferer of brittle bone disease that makes him, effectively, as fragile as glass. Price's theory is that if he's as weak as humanity permits, it stands to reason someone must be his direct opposite; a man who is, essentially, unbreakable. So it is Dunn discovers his superhuman strength, becoming the reluctant and very human superhero 'Overseer'. Then came Split and the introduction of 'The Horde' (McAvoy) - a collective name for the many personalities embodying the hapless Kevin Wendell Crumb. Chief amongst them is 'The Beast', an abnormally strong and animalistic entity capable of scaling sheer walls and even ceilings. If Dunn is the superhero, The Beast, then, emerges as the super villain.
Glass ties these characters together by locking all three up in a mental institute under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). Her speciality is illusions of grandeur manifesting in the belief that its sufferers are superheroes, and the film does an impressive job of sewing doubt in both the characters' and audience's mind that everything we've seen to date might be explained away by simple science. It's an enticing counterpoint to the conventional superhero narrative, which is simply 'they exist, and that's that'. Here, by contrast, Shyamalan continues his preoccupation with how one might become a superhero. It's a trilogy-long origin story, grounded in the lore and mythology of comic books. Fascinating as that idea is, the movie spends far too long footnoting itself, going to pains to explain again and again how its events track the narrative arc of any comic. It's as if Shyamalan is desperate to ensure you know how clever his idea is, and all you want to do is yell back at the screen: 'IT'S OKAY! WE GET IT! MOVE ON!'
But it is clever. The idea that superheroes do exist, but are also very human and only marginally more enhanced and capable than everyone else represents an appealing and refreshing take on the genre. Its theoretical strength, however, is also its practical weakness. The climactic clash between Overseer and The Beast feels entirely lacklustre and unimpressive in a world now accustomed to such scenes periodically involving the levelling of entire cities. That has become tiresome as well, of course, but there's room for something in between. In Glass, Overseer and The Beast are, at best, stronger-than-usual; a far cry from Super Man, Thor or The Hulk. Consequently most of their fighting consists of the pair locked arm-in-arm like a dull MMA bout. There are flourishes of brilliance - Beast's inhuman gallop across a field being amongst the best - but they're far too infrequent. It's a film too preoccupied with explaining itself as it goes and determined surprise you at the end, and whilst the journey is enjoyable enough, the final feeling is that a great opportunity was missed.