[WARNING: The following review contains SPOILERS!]
Despite the caustic critical reception it’s attracted, I think Glass is a perfectly adequate movie. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not nearly as good as Unbreakable. Heck, it even falls short of the standard set by Split. Nevertheless, it does offer up some interesting ideas… they’re just presented via a sloppily structured framework, making them difficult to appreciate. Indeed, this could serve as a case study of how themes and subtext are no substitute for a sturdy plot.
The problems begin barely fifteen minutes in, when the climactic showdown between David Dunn (Bruce Willis, who is at least half awake) and “The Beast” (James McAvoy, once again relishing the opportunity to play multiple personalities) teased in Split’s mid-credits epilogue occurs… at the end of the first act. From there, we’re whisked away to the psychiatric ward of Dr. Ellie Staple, who hopes to convince hero and villain alike that their extraordinary abilities are merely products of their overactive imaginations. Much of the running time is devoted to rationally explaining away the superhuman feats we’ve witnessed throughout the series—though the "good doctor’s" arguments are so transparently contradictory that it hardly comes as a surprise when we discover that (Spoiler #1) she doesn’t truly believe them.
More frustrating is the fact that Elijah Price (a.k.a. Mr. Glass, the story’s protagonist) doesn’t appear on screen until almost the halfway mark—and even then, he’s depicted as catatonic. Of course, it’s immediately obvious that (Spoiler #2) he’s feigning his vegetative state as part of his master plan… but leaving such a vast majority of his maniacal scheming off camera still feels like a cheat. Elijah is one of Samuel L. Jackson’s most captivating roles, and he continues that brilliant work here… when he’s allowed to actually speak.
The most disappointing aspect of Glass, however, is how concretely it illustrates that M. Night Shyamalan has lost his creative spark. No, I’m not talking about the director's infamous over-reliance on twists (though that particular trademark returns with a vengeance following a welcome absence from Split); I’m referring to the fact that he’s now seemingly incapable of putting his high concepts into a proper narrative context. Consider the beautifully crafted scene in Unbreakable in which Elijah, despondent after learning that David (who he previously assumed was totally indestructible) narrowly avoided drowning in his youth, trashes the shelves at his local comic book shop… and, in the process, accidentally stumbles across a back issue that triggers an important epiphany: Water is David’s Kryptonite! In a similar vein, several supporting characters in Glass turn to comics in order to research the source of their loved ones’ apparent delusions—but in every case, they lack any discernible motivation, and the information they uncover rarely leads to a significant payoff.
This ties into Glass’ misguided belief that the general public (both in- and out-of-universe) is completely ignorant of superhero tropes. In Unbreakable, it was plausible that Willis' middle-aged average Joe might require Elijah’s “expertise”; here, though, such trivial knowledge as “The introduction of Superman changed the industry forever!” is delivered with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. It’s the most debilitating symptom of Shyamalan’s disconnect from the current state of the medium (cinematic adaptations of Marvel and DC properties are borderline inescapable; caped crusaders are beyond mainstream at this point)—which ultimately undermines the film’s credibility. It is, after all, supposed to be a deconstruction of modern superhero mythology and iconography; how can it succeed if it’s so woefully out of touch with its subject matter and intended audience?