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I loved M. Night Shyamalan’s film Unbreakable back when it was released in 2000.  I was excited for a superhero film that took superhero films seriously.  (Two decades ago, I could count all the decent superhero movies that had EVER BEEN MADE on one hand.)  I rewatched Unbreakable a few weeks ago, and even when viewed in the context of today’s golden age of superhero films, I think the film holds up well.  It’s got a compelling story, a terrific cast, it’s gorgeously shot (the way Mr. Shyamalan composes the images and stages his scenes is amazing), the dialogue is rich and multi-layered.  It’s great!  It’s still one of my very favorite superhero films.

In my opinion, its only weakness is that it feels like it’s missing its last 30 minutes.  The film is all set-up, but no payoff.  It feels like a perfect first two acts of a film… that is missing act three.  To this day I can’t believe the film ends when David Dunn (Bruce Willis), discovers the truth about what Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) has been up to.  I was expecting an exciting confrontation between these two opposites to unfold… but instead, Elijah just gives himself up and the film ends!  And so, ever since 2000, I felt that Unbreakable was a film that was crying out for a sequel.  But as the years passed, I had long ago given up hope that one would ever arrive.

Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Shyamalan surprised the world by revealing in the closing scene of his 2016 film Split that it was, in fact, a stealth sequel to Unbreakable!  Since that film was a hit, it allowed Mr. Shyamalan to finally return fully to the world of Unbreakable with his latest film, Glass.

Glass serves as a sequel to both Unbreakable and to Split.  Split’s villainous character, Kevin Wendell Crumb (nicknamed “the Horde”) is still on the loose, and he has kidnapped more young women.  We learn that, in the years since Unbreakable, David Dunn (now nicknamed “the Overseer”) has continued to seek out wrong-doers, assisted by his son Joseph.  David sets out to find and stop Kevin.  When the two meet, they battle to a standstill which is interrupted by the police, who take both men into custody.  They bring David and Kevin to a psychiatric facility, overseen by Dr. Ellie Staple.  Elijah is also being kept there.  Dr. Staple believes that all three men suffer from a mental illness, deluding themselves into thinking that they are super-powered.

I was extremely excited for Glass, but I was also dubious that Mr. Shyamalan would be able to craft a satisfactory sequel.  I loved Mr. Shyamalan’s first three films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs), but I have not enjoyed any of the films he’s made for the past two decades.  I kept watching his new movies for years, but time after time (The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening) they disappointed, so eventually I stopped watching.  Split was the first new M. Night Shyamalan film I’d seen in about ten years.  It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but it was a well-made horror film.  This gave me some home for Glass.  But my larger concern was that I personally was looking for a sequel that would be large in scale, one that would expand the world of Unbreakable and perhaps show us the types of super-powered conflicts that are now possible to depict on screen.  The ending of Unbreakable seemed to me to indicate that Mr. Shyamalan was not interested in going there (why else end the film without actually showing us David and Elijah in conflict?) — so would anything have changed two decades later?

But I put my concerns aside and entered Glass filled with excitement.  I wanted to like this movie.

In the end, though, it played out about how I’d feared.  Glass has some interesting scenes and some interesting ideas, but in my opinion the film doesn’t come together the way it should, and I found the whole thing to be rather underwhelming.

The first act was solid.  I was so happy to see Bruce Willis back playing David Dunn again.  This brought a huge smile to my face.  I liked Mr. Willis’ work in those early scenes.  I loved that Mr. Shyamalan included David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) in the story (and I was so happy that Mr. Clark, who played Joseph as a young boy in Unbreakable twenty years ago, returned to reprise his role), and I loved the idea that father and son had been working together for years to stop crime.  I was bummed that they wrote out David’s wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn), since Ms. Wright Penn was so great in Unbreakable, but in a film this stuffed with characters, I can understand why they felt they needed to streamline.

I also enjoyed the way the film picked up right from the end of Split, with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) still on the loose.  Mr. McAvoy’s performance as this crazy multiple-personality character was again fantastic, bringing the screen to life whenever we see him.  I loved seeing David chase after Kevin, and I am glad the film didn’t delay too long before allowing the two men — super-hero and super-villain — to confront one another.

The idea of them then getting captured, and brought to the same facility where Elijah was being held, was an interesting twist, and I was excited to see these three great characters thrust together.  Unfortunately, just when sparks really should have started flying, this was the point in which the film slammed on the breaks.  The film’s whole long middle section depicts these three characters being held in a psychiatric facility and “treated” by Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson).  I love Ms. Paulson, but this character is a flat bore.  For this whole long middle section of the film, Dr. Staple tries to convince the characters (and, I guess, the audience), that they’re not really super-powered, but rather suffering from delusions of grandeur.  But we KNOW that this is not the case, and that these characters really ARE super-powered, so this whole long section is a frustrating time-waster, just killing time until the third act action which we know is eventually coming.  It also doesn’t make any sense.  We know that David Dunn is super-strong.  We see him bend steel later in the film.  So why doesn’t he demonstrate that to Dr. Staple?  Why doesn’t he just turn the metal cot in his prison room into a pretzel?  Wouldn’t that have proven the veracity of what he believes?  For this middle section to have worked, it needed to be a much more effective mind-fuck, somehow convincing the audience that maybe what we thought we’d seen in Unbreakable and then Split wasn’t in fact what had really happened.  That could have been cool.  But that’s not at all what we got.  Instead, we spend way too much time with two annoying orderlies who we know are doomed.  (They’re both played by good actors, Adam David Thompson and Luke Kirby.  I was so excited to see Mr. Kirby, who has been killing it as Lenny Bruce on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  But these characters were not interesting, and if an amazing actor like Sarah Paulson couldn’t find a way to be good in this movie, it’s no surprise that these two didn’t either.)

At the end, finally, inevitably, shit goes down, the villains break out, and David has to try to stop them.  Here, finally, should be the great superhero fight that Unbreakable fans had been waiting two decades for.  And…. what we get are some embarrassingly lame close-up P.O.V. shots of the two men grappling with one another… and some long-shots of them wrestling in the grass.  Wowsers.  My fears were realized — Mr. Shyamalan either didn’t have the skill or the interest in creating a visually exciting super-hero fight.  (The film repeatedly teased us with the idea of a superhero-supervillain confrontation atop the city’s highest new tower.  Well, dammit, I wanted to see that!!)  I mean, come on.  I wasn’t expecting Infinity War-level action, but give me ONE special effects shot!!

And then we get to the twists in the film’s final few minutes.  There are some interesting ideas here, and I can see the scaffolding of what could have been a great story.  But as executed this stuff just didn’t work for me.  Spoilers ahead, friends.

Well, the biggest shock is, of course, that David Dunn, the hero of Unbreakable, gets killed.  Now, I don’t object to this in theory.  This could have been a SHOCKING moment that threw audiences completely for a loop.  But as executed, in my opinion it doesn’t work at all and, in fact, is the film’s biggest misstep.  Problem number one is the way that David gets taken out in such a wimpy manner!  This was not a heroic death, nor a shocking and emotionally wrenching one.  It was just, well, lame.  After waiting two decades to see this character actually BE the super-hero that the entire Unbreakable film was setting him up to be… THIS is all we get?  It feels like a huge betrayal of the audience-members that have been a fan of this series since the beginning.  Problem number two is the way the moment is presented in such an offhand sort of way.  It was so casual that I didn’t believe David had actually been killed; I expected him to return somehow.  The moment didn’t land as the dramatic moment it needed to be.  And so it was only several minutes later, when the movie’s story had moved on, that I realized, oh, wow, I guess he really IS dead!  I don’t think that’s how that moment was supposed to play.

Then there’s the whole business that Dr. Staple actually DID believe that these characters had super-powers, and that her mission was to try to cover that up.  At first I was relieved that this character wasn’t such an oblivious idiot as I’d thought she was.  But this last-minute switch doesn’t negate the fact that I’d spent the whole movie being annoyed at how she couldn’t see the obvious right in front of her.  Also, once you start to pick apart her plan and the existence of this secret society, the whole thing starts to fall apart.  The secret society who only meet up in crowded restaurants is laughable, and I’m not sure it’s conceivable that she really thought she could essentially trick these three men into forgetting that they actually had super-powers.  And why on Earth would she bring them TOGETHER?  That seems 1) like a recipe for disaster should anything go wrong (remember, she really DID know and believe that these men had super-powers) and 2) allowing them each to see the others seems like it would do more to convince each of them that superpowers could exist, as opposed to if they were in isolation, believing that perhaps they were each the only one.

Other thoughts:

I enjoyed how the film, in the end, turned out to be about the three supporting characters: Joseph, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard).  Unfortunately, because the film wastes so much time on that whole middle section, it doesn’t spend the time it needed to in order to develop these characters.  After my initial excitement of seeing Joseph at the beginning of the film, I was disappointed to realize that he’s not given much else to do.  His one attempt to rescue his father is haplessly pathetic.  (I’d have loved to have seen Joseph be super-smart and capable, as the man who’s been assisting his father’s super-heroic efforts for so many years.  Wouldn’t it have been cool if he’d actually been a threat to Dr. Staples’ plan?)  Casey was the main character in Split, and she was a fascinating character… but here, I never felt the film knew what to do with her.  She has zero impact on the plot.  Her ability to get through to Kevin was interesting.  But I wanted to get deeper into what Casey was thinking and feeling.  How was she adapting after the ordeal she’d been through?  I wanted to see more about her love/hate relationship towards Kevin, who had held her prisoner for days and who brutally murdered the girls he’d held her with.  Then there is Elijah’s mother.  She was a great character in Unbreakable, and one lingering question from that film was how she’d react when she discovered that her beloved son was a super-villain.  So I was delighted to see her brought back for this film, but here again, the film doesn’t explore her as deeply as I’d wanted.  I wanted the film to explore her conflicting emotions about her son: love for her boy who had been through so much, and horror at what he had wrought.  But the film doesn’t really allow us to see any of that.

I was shocked that the film shows us that Dr. Price can hold these men in an isolated facility.  Forget the super-powered stuff.  The whole city knew that Kevin had kidnapped and murdered multiple young women.  Why wasn’t there heavy security at the facility where he was being held?  Why weren’t there public protests in support of the victims, from people who wanted to see Kevin tried and punished?  Why didn’t we see Dr. Price getting pressured by the local Chief of Police, and/or the Mayor, to deliver some sort of satisfaction to the public?

I could go on (why didn’t the videos released at the end, that shocked the world, have more impressive and undeniably super-powered stuff to show everyone?), but it just makes me sad.  I really wanted to like this movie.  And there is a lot of good stuff.  I enjoyed seeing the worlds of Unbreakable and Split woven together.  I enjoyed seeing the return of so many characters from both films.  (I liked how Mr. Shyamalan himself reprised his cameo from Unbreakable!)  This film had a great cast.  There were a lot of interesting individual scenes and moments.  But for me, it just didn’t come together in a satisfying way… and it certainly wasn’t a satisfying resolution to the story that had begun in Unbreakable.  Oh well…

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