Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Sarah Paulson
Classification: PG; 129 minutes
Watching Glass the other night, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jason Reitman.
Not that the director had anything to do with Glass, which is an M. Night Shyamalan production through and through. But there were nagging similarities in how Glass made its way into the world and the news this week that Reitman would be directing a new sequel to his father Ivan’s Ghostbusters franchise.
The Shyamalan-Reitman theory crystallized – expanding-brain-meme-style – at Glass’s one-hour mark, by which point Glass had produced zero thrills. Or maybe it was the moment later, when it was clear that the movie had no idea how to compellingly tie together two other Shyamalan films (2000′s Unbreakable and 2016′s Split) into one superhero-themed capper. More likely, it was the lazy and ludicrous finale, when Glass toppled itself over with not one nor two but three twists, each so big and excessively fat to be classified as clinically obese.
Basically, it boiled down to a question: Why?
Why was Shyamalan, who has directed at least four objective failures over the course of his career, allowed yet another chance to prove what a disappointment he can be? Why has the industry constantly given him passes, when he’s done everything – Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth – he can to prove his detractors right? The same “Why, god, why?” question applies to Reitman, who has now been given the keys to the Ghosbusters kingdom despite having also produced four flops – all in a row, and two of which came out just last year. As my film Twitter colleague Jesse Hawken noted upon the Ghostbusters news, Elaine May directed Ishtar and was never allowed behind a camera again. There’s simply a certain male cadre of filmmakers (I didn’t forget about you, Guy Ritchie) who get to punish audiences again and again.
So: Why? In Reitman’s case, there’s a last name involved. With Shyamalan it’s trickier. Which is to say it’s not nepotism, only stupidity. Long ago, the director displayed a knack for teasing out tension, and it worked just enough times (The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village if we’re being generous) that producers kept hoping for more. But with Glass, Shyamalan seals his fate as being forever aligned with ineptitude – and there will be no mercy reserved for whoever inevitably funds his next comeback.
Fashioned as the tail-end of a trilogy that only exists because of two minutes tacked on at the end of Split, Glass unites the lead character from that movie, a multiple-personality-burdened killer (James McAvoy), with the pseudo-superhero David (Bruce Willis) and sorta-super-villain Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) from Unbreakable. In short order, they’re all locked together in a psych ward by Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson), who tries to convince each of them that their superpowers – which we all witnessed in their respective films – are delusions of grandeur.
But then ... well, no, that’s everything. Despite Glass being touted as a 19-years-in-the-making superhero showdown, Shyamalan is content to drain anything resembling tension, action or entertainment from the proceedings. There’s one poorly shot fight between David and McAvoy’s “Beast” persona near the beginning, but most of the film’s 129 minutes are spent with Dr. Staple lecturing her wards, or devoted to the inconsequential antics of the hospital’s caretakers. (I’m not exaggerating when I say Luke Kirby’s orderly character has three times the dialogue of Willis and zero narrative purpose.)
This could all be read as subversive. But only if you’re, say, Shyamalan’s mother. Or Shyamalan himself, who is obviously pleased with himself, so much so that the finale – don’t worry, I won’t reveal any specifics, but only because they are so very stupid – is essentially the director congratulating himself for making what he believes is a world-changing film. (For those who recall Shyamalan playing a novelist whose book makes history in Lady in the Water, prepare for an even larger hubristic leap.)
McAvoy and Paulson fight as hard as they can against Shyamalan’s instincts – even though, as with Split, it’s gross to watch dissociative identity disorder played for horror and laughs – but theirs is a pointless battle. The somnambulist Willis and Jackson have the better idea, dozing through their scenes until the cheques clear. (Jackson, to be fair, has the benefit of his character being literally asleep for the film’s first hour.)
Surprising no one, Glass closes with Shyamalan promising a follow-up. The twist: Hollywood will probably give him the chance.