M. Night Shyamalan just stuck the landing on one of the most unconventional trilogies in cinematic history.
It started with “Unbreakable,” his slow-burn take on comic-book mythos that came out in the year 2000 in the middle of the writer/director’s meteoric rise to superstardom with movies like “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.”
In “Unbreakable,” we meet David Dunn (Bruce Willis in probably his most restrained performance), an unassuming security guard who comes to the realization he may have superhuman strength and invulnerability after surviving a cataclysmic train wreck.
David is encouraged to explore this potential by his wide-eyed son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) and comic-book-obsessed art dealer Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson).
The movie was beautifully directed, but, thanks in part to an abrupt ending, felt incomplete and a tad unsatisfying.
Years passed and Shyamalan became a victim of his own success as his movies went from underwhelming (“The Village”) to laughable (“The Happening”) to flat-out bad (“After Earth”).
Just when his career was on life support, Shyamalan got a jolt from the success of his no-frills, kiddie horror flick “The Visit,” which he parlayed into “Split” in 2017.
“Split” was another surprise hit, a seemingly standalone thriller about a man with multiple-personality disorder named Kevin (James McAvoy in a command performance), who is on the verge of unleashing a new personality called The Beast with superhuman abilities and a chilling agenda.
He kidnaps three teenage girls for his dark purpose but finds one of the girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), to be more formidable than he thought. It isn’t until the very end of the film where it is revealed Kevin exists in the same universe as the cast of “Unbreakable.”
This all brings us to “Glass,” which takes place almost immediately following “Split,” where David is on a mission to hunt down Kevin (who is known now as The Horde) and bring him to justice.
Both men are captured by the authorities and placed in a mental institution along with Elijah (who now goes by Mr. Glass), who has been there for almost 20 years for orchestrating the train crash that brought David’s powers to light.
The three men are under the supervision of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who believes all three are simply suffering from delusions of grandeur and plans to treat them before they are turned over to the state. Of course, putting them all in the same place is maybe not the best idea.
“Glass” is a dense movie, beguiling the almost bare-bones simplicity of the first two films. All of the comic book pathos is back in play, along with the constantly shifting ground of pegging exactly who the good guys and the bad guys are. (Spoiler! Pretty much everybody is both).
There are some great performances here. Paulson does a solid job of holding down the fort and Jackson, when he is finally unleashed, is dependably terrific. But, once again, it’s McAvoy who steals the show, playing a man literally divided against himself as some of his personalities are strongly opposed to The Beast and all he stands for. There is a spectacular scene where a flashing light triggers a personality change and McAvoy switches from personality to personality like someone changing television channels.
“Glass” is an ambitious movie, taking a story about comic book heroes that began well before Marvel had bludgeoned us into submission and then making it pay off nearly 20 years later.
The result may only be satisfying for true believers, but in a pop culture awash in tights and capes, maybe it’s OK for a little navel-gazing into our collective obsession with superheroes. And if that’s not your thing, I totally get it. And don’t worry, another Marvel movie will be along shortly to make everything better.
“Glass” is rated PG-13 for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language.