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"GLASS"
(2019) (Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action-Drama: A man possessing psychic powers and an ability to absorb physical punishment without breaking bones or suffering life-threatening injuries comes into conflict with an old nemesis and a frightening new threat.
PLOT:
Security guard David Dunn (BRUCE WILLIS) was once the only survivor of a major train derailment that killed every passenger onboard except him. He didn't suffer a single scratch. That was years ago. In the present, he is a vigilante who uses his psychic abilities and the computer skills of his son, Joseph (SPENCER TREAT CLARK), to track Kevin Crumb (JAMES McAVOY), a disturbed man who abducts teenage girls and has 24 distinct personalities.

Both men are apprehended during a late-night showdown and sent to a psychiatric facility where David is reacquainted with his old nemesis, Elijah (SAMUEL L. JACKSON), a.k.a. "Mr. Glass." Elijah, whose brittle bones have left him extremely susceptible to injury all of his life, has been at the hospital for years after masterminding several major accidents to try and find his exact opposite (David). He is visited often by his mother (CHARLAYNE WOODARD).

All three men are placed under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (SARAH PAULSON), a psychiatrist who specializes in people who believe they have superhuman abilities. She tries to convince each that they have created a shared delusion that they are superheroes (and super-villains) but are really normal and suffering from childhood trauma. Dr. Staple enlists the help of Casey (ANYA TAYLOR-JOY), who survived a previous abduction by Kevin because she was able to appeal to the decency of one of his personalities...the real Kevin. But Elijah has other plans for all of them.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When "Unbreakable" premiered in 2000, the Joel Schumacher "Batman" movies had ended three years earlier in spectacularly bad fashion. And the world was just getting its first taste of what comic-book/superhero movies could be with that year's release of the first "X-Men." M. Night Shyamalan's film was not about big action or huge set pieces or eye-popping pyrotechnics. It was a grounded, heady film that used classic comic book tropes and storylines to tell a somber story of good vs. evil. It made it onto several critics' 10 Best lists.

Flash forward to 2016, and Shyamalan was in full-redeem mode after several pretentious, big-screen misfires. He unleashed "Split" about a disturbed man named Kevin (James McAvoy) with 24 distinct personalities, one of whom (dubbed "The Beast") had superhuman abilities ranging from great strength and speed to the ability to scale walls and ceilings. If you left before the end credits were through, you would have missed one of the more clever Easter eggs in recent memory...Bruce Willis reprising his David Dunn character from "Unbreakable" and commenting on a TV news report of the events of "Split." This let audiences know the two films are set in the same movie universe.

Finally, we are getting the long-awaited mash-up of the two, a sequel to both "Unbreakable" and "Split" called "Glass" in which Samuel L. Jackson also headlines as David's nemesis, Elijah (a.k.a. "Mr. Glass"). The result? I'm sorry to report, true believers, that it's a disappointment. It's both over-imagined and under-developed. Shyamalan is back to believing himself to be the most profound storyteller on the planet. But his lessons here about good and bad, humanity and inhumanity, fantasy and reality feel inert and ponderous. It doesn't help that the pace is brutally slow in spots. And the film makes you believe it's building to something epic and revelatory. And all you really get is a violent parking lot scuffle that doesn't so much answer cosmic questions, but leads one to ask, "Uh, didn't the studios give Night any money to shoot this?!"

Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen a high-concept Hollywood movie with so few extras and only a scant number of locations. "Glass" has a promising start in which David tracks McAvoy's scary abductor to a Philadelphia warehouse district, saves a squad of cheerleaders, and engages in a brutal fight with Kevin. But once that's done, the two and Jackson's Elijah spend nearly the rest of the film in a rather plain-looking psychiatric facility, muttering comic-book platitudes and waiting for what seems like days for Elijah to put a plan into motion to spring all three so that David and Kevin can have a major throwdown downtown at the opening of Philly's latest landmark skyscraper and Elijah can prove to the world that superheroes do exist.

It takes a good hour of screen time to get the three actors together in one room, which is the main selling point of the film in commercials and trailers. But even that scene, with Sarah Paulson's shady psychiatrist trying to get the three to admit to creating the delusion of superpowers in order to deal with childhood trauma, comes off limp. You have McAvoy spectacularly rifling through personality after personality while Willis just sits next to him like one of the four stone faces on action-movie icon Mt. Rushmore. At that point in the film, Elijah is feigning being catatonic so he's no help either.

The film finally crackles to life when Jackson's character revives and he gets everybody up and moving. Jackson is still darn good in the part and is the one actor in the movie capable of delivering Shyamalan's long passages of exposition and making it sound interesting. I also liked how Shyamalan brought back supporting actors and their characters from the other two movies -- specifically Spencer Treat Clark as David's supportive son, Charlayne Woodard as Elijah's worried mother, and Anya Taylor-Joy as the one abductee of Kevin's who was able to reach the real Kevin. All three add some sorely needed emotional texture to the movie and are vital links to the past flicks.

I just can't help feeling Shyamalan missed a golden opportunity here to riff on all of the superhero films that have come after 2000. Remember, that was two years before the first of the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" trilogy hit and eight years before "Iron Man" kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In "Unbreakable," Shyamalan constructed what ended up being a realistic superhero film. He could have gone the opposite route here, been this film's Mr. Glass, and deconstructed the genre that has emerged this past decade with just a little more imagination and cunning.

As it is, "Glass" is at best a showcase for its three lead stars. But with a great first two movies comes great responsibility. I was really expecting more from "Glass," and I didn't get it. I rate it a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed January 15, 2019 / Posted January 18, 2017


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