Smoke and mirrors

“I know what you’re thinking, ‘Where exactly did he get that monogrammed cravat?’”

“I know what you’re thinking, ‘Where exactly did he get that monogrammed cravat?’”

Just when you think M. Night Shyamalan might be getting on a hot streak, he unleashes something like Glass to show us he’s still a stylish yet sloppy, self-indulgent kook.

Following one bomb after another during a 15-year stretch, Shyamalan showed us he was still capable of good cinematic things with Split in 2017—a showcase for James McAvoy’s multi-persona performance and a creepy little thriller thanks to Shyamalan’s surprisingly deft direction. An after-credits scene showed us Bruce Willis as David Dunn, his superhumanly strong Unbreakable character, and the possibilities became very intriguing.

The director announced his intention to make Glass and that Split was, in fact, the second part of what would be a trilogy. Glass would bring back the brittle-boned character of that name played by Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable, along with Willis and the newly introduced McAvoy character(s). OK, sounds good. Let’s go!

Well… shit. 2019 has its first legitimate clunker.

Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again, the kind of loopy, half-assed filmmaking that made the world scratch its collective head with The Happening, The Village, The Last Airbender, After Earth and Lady in the Water—all wretched stink bombs.

He has a remarkable ability to employ both lazy and overambitious writing simultaneously. He puts a lot in play with Glass but doesn’t seem to have a distinct idea of where to take it. Plot holes abound like wolf spider offspring jumping from their momma’s back when you slam a shoe down on her. There are so many, it’s hard to keep track of them.

First, he finds a way—an incredibly stupid and inane way—to get the gang together in some sort of mental institution where they are being studied by a too-nice-to-be-trusted doctor (Sarah Paulson). Then, McAvoy gets a chance to do his switching personality shtick for a good chunk of the movie while Willis virtually disappears for a stretch and Jackson’s Glass sits in a catatonic state.

Near the end of the movie, the Shyamalan script starts rambling about the origins of comic books. What do they really mean? He fixates on this like anybody really gives a crap, and the action in the film dwindles away, replaced by the dopiest dialogue this side of a Fifty Shades movie. Shyamalan shamelessly teases a big showdown atop Philadelphia skyscrapers between McAvoy’s the Beast and Willis’s strong guy. It’s as if he’s saying “I know you are bored right now, but there’s a Kong vs. Godzilla type showdown coming! Sit tight you fidgety little buggers!”

Alas, all we get is a fist fight on the hospital lawn, and a very drawn-out and uninteresting one at that. I am understating things when I tell you the fates of these characters are handled in a flippant, underwhelming, downright awful way. Shyamalan takes his chance to do something worthwhile in the universe he created and instead opts for blathering idiocy and preachy nonsense.

Anya Taylor-Joy, so good in Split, is reduced to a role that has her, for some nutty reasons, having sympathetic, huggy conversations with the dude who almost ate her. Spencer Treat Clark returns as Joseph Dunn, David’s now grown son, and he’s actually grown into a fairly competent actor—a fairly competent actor given next to nothing worthwhile to do.

Nothing makes sense in this mess, and Shyamalan takes all of the blame. Yes, it has the standard Shyamalan big twists in it, and they do nothing to substantiate the story or shock you in that good, Sixth Sense sort of way. He springs the so-called surprise on you, and you are left wondering, “Oh, wait… really? That’s, like, stupid.”

I distinctly remember that “WTF?” feeling that hit me when Unbreakable abruptly ended with that dopey freeze frame. It felt like Shyamalan had completely betrayed his audience with a lame stunt. That’s how I felt during most of the running time for Glass.