Franchise Evolution: The Unbreakable Trilogy, part 3: Glass (2019)
Previously in the Unbreakable Trilogy: In the wake of 2016’s Split—an effective horror-thriller in spite of its paltry $9 million budget and a depiction of multiple personality disorder straight out of 1970s TV movies—some feared writer-director M. Night Shyamalan was actually on his way to some sort of creative renaissance. But then last year’s Glass came out, and everyone breathed easy, as M. Night returned to form by taking a promising concept and turning it into one of the most crushing disappointments of 2019. The fact that it took me well over a year to finally wrap up this trio of reviews should show how much enthusiasm Glass generated in me.
It’s entirely possible that the mid-credits scene that tied Split into the same continuity as Unbreakable was a bit of a tossed-off lark meant as a fun callback to Shyamalan’s earlier film, and nothing more. And that once that scene started creating genuine excitement for a follow-up—a 20-years-later sequel to a cult film and a sequel to an unexpectedly fun thriller?—Shyamalan was caught completely unprepared. Because one thing is clear: there’s not nearly enough material here to justify a third outing in this so-called trilogy.
Also, just like Split, Glass is a co-production of Blumhouse, a company that specializes in making films as cheaply and quickly as possible to maximize profits. As such, the plot is full of blatant stall tactics and obvious cost cutting moves, chief among them that roughly 95% of the film takes place in a single location. There’s also lots and lots of talking, because filming conversations is cheap. And the other big money-saving move is that Glass constantly teases a big action climax that never materializes, indicating it was possibly scripted but deemed too expensive to film. The result is a pretty abysmal way to wrap-up a supposed trilogy.
The film opens with Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), or rather the collection of personalities inside of him known as the Horde still on the loose after Split and still out abducting unfortunate teenage girls. He’s also up to the same old tricks where Kevin’s OCD identity “Dennis” terrorizes his captives, while his 9-year-old identity “Hedwig” taunts them with the promise that the “Beast” is coming for them.
Meanwhile, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), 19 years after the events of Unbreakable, is still donning his green poncho and using his strength and invulnerability to take down criminals. But now, the media has taken to calling him the “Overseer”, but no one has ever succeeded in capturing more than a blurry screenshot of this vigilante. Somehow, after nearly twenty years of crimefighting, David’s identity is still a secret even though he barely wears a disguise.
Assisting David in hunting down evildoers is his now-adult son Joseph (played again by Spencer Treat Clark). We learn that since the previous film, Joseph’s mom died from leukemia, presumably because Robin Wright was otherwise engaged. Joseph works at the surveillance equipment store his dad now owns, giving Shyamalan his customary cameo as a customer, though this time it’s sort of amusing; Night is playing the same character as in Unbreakable, meaning he recognizes David as the football stadium guard who almost busted him for dealing drugs, and then explains he turned his life around and that’s how he became the security guard at Dr. Fletcher’s apartment building in Split.
Father and son know about the four missing girls and are on the trail of the Horde, and they intuit with virtually no evidence that the villain must be hiding out in Philadelphia’s “factory area”. David decides to walk around the area to brush his hands up against random guys to see if he receives any Dead Zone-style visions like he did in Unbreakable. By pure happenstance, he walks past Kevin in his Hedwig persona, and gets a vision of the girls chained up in a nearby brick factory. Yes, it happens just like that.
And just like that, David goes to rescue the girls, and just like that, the super jacked-up Beast personality emerges to take on David. The two get into a brief and not terribly impressive brawl, and I bet you didn’t think the big battle between the hero and the villain would happen within the first 17 minutes of Glass, did you?
Their bout comes to an end when they find themselves surrounded by police. And telling them all to stand down is one lone scientist (you can tell by the white lab coat) named Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who has the two men committed to the Raven Hill psychiatric hospital, which is unfortunately where nearly the entire remainder of the film takes place.
There, Ellie reveals that her specialty is helping people with the delusion of having superpowers, which you’d think wouldn’t keep her in business for long, but she calls it a “growing field” and tries to convince both David and Kevin that their supposed “powers” are all easily explainable as normal human abilities. And yet, she keeps both of them locked up in cells equipped with each man’s weakness, taking great pains to explain that they’re only employing these devices because the two men believe them to be their weaknesses, you see. David is locked in a room filled with a massive sprinkler system, because as unsubtly established in Unbreakable, water is his Kryptonite.
Likewise, Kevin/Horde’s cell contains flashing “hypno-lights” that cause him to cycle through his personalities whenever the current one gets too violent. In this way, we meet about ten more of the Horde’s personalities, including “Luke”, “Mr. Pritchard”, and “Mary Reynolds”, though most of them aren’t distinguished beyond maybe an effeminate lisp or a funny accent.
And we learn Raven Hill just happens to already have one more patient with the same delusion: Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), AKA Mr. Glass. Apparently, Raven Hill is the very same “institution for the criminally insane” described in the stupid closing text crawl of Unbreakable, and Elijah has been held here for the last twenty years, medicated into a catatonic state because he’s so brilliant that he keeps finding ways to escape. Much is made of whether or not Elijah really is catatonic, with bumbling orderlies constantly testing to see if he’s conscious, which should of course be our big clue that he’s not in a catatonic state, because otherwise there’d be no movie.
Meanwhile, we catch up with Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), the Horde’s only surviving victim from the previous movie, who’s relieved to find out her former kidnapper has been captured. She inexplicably decides to go the psychiatric hospital to see Kevin, and at Ellie’s prompting she does the old “say his name” trick to bring the real Kevin Wendell Crumb out. Kevin’s time in the light doesn’t last long, and doesn’t seem to have much of a point either, though somewhere in here Casey does reveal that her molester uncle is now in jail thanks to her.
Ellie calls in Elijah’s mother (Charlayne Woodard, who in real life is five years younger than Samuel L. Jackson) to learn more about Elijah. Later, Joseph shows up attempting to convince Ellie that his dad David isn’t crazy. And so in a totally forced way, each of the three main characters gets outfitted with a “family member” of sorts to stumble into the action and heighten the drama.
Ellie then does her “final evaluation”, which involves getting all three men together into one (very pink) room to confront them about their delusions. And she’s included Elijah, even though he’s supposedly catatonic. From here, the film falls into a major lull that consists of Ellie trying to convince her patients that they’re merely suffering from brain damage, which involves lots of pretentious discussion about the nature of comic books that takes all the subtext about superheroes and villains from the previous two films and turns it into just plain text.
To pad things out some more, there are also pointless flashbacks. Maybe this was an attempt to replicate the flashback structure of Split, which gave us insight into Casey’s character as a survivor of sexual abuse, but once again, the flashbacks seem to simply exist for the sake of showing us childhood trauma, like when a young Elijah breaks all his bones on a carnival ride, or a young David almost drowns in a pool (a story much more effectively related in dialogue in Unbreakable). Also, the movie repurposes at least one deleted scene of young Joseph from Unbreakable for no discernible reason.
Later on, Elijah, who’s (surprise!) not catatonic, wheels out of his room and into a nearby records room. He goes rifling through files on Kevin and learns a deep dark secret about his father hinted at in Split. Then he spots a magazine cover announcing the opening of a new skyscraper in downtown Philly called the Osaka Tower, which features a not-so-subtle reference to the Marvel Comics logo. Glass gets caught in the act, and later subjected to a lobotomy, which eats up more time with another “is he or is he not catatonic?” subplot (spoiler: he’s not).
At long last, Elijah begins to put a plan into motion: He wants to reveal the existence of superpowered individuals to the world by setting up a showdown between the Overseer and the Beast in public. Specifically, he threatens to blow up the Osaka Tower at its grand opening. He frees Kevin, and also shuts off the water jets in David’s cell, giving him the opportunity to break out. Alas, none of our characters ever reach the Osaka Tower. The Beast is stopped on the front lawn of the hospital by security guards, and proceeds to fight them long enough for the Overseer to appear and take him on directly, while Glass mostly sits around watching.
While this is going on, Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s mom all happen to converge on the hospital at the exact same moment. This is mainly so that Joseph, who’s also been researching Kevin Wendell Crumb’s history, can reveal the big twist about Kevin’s father. As many fans conjectured after watching Split, the elder Crumb was a passenger on Eastrail 177, the same train from Unbreakable that derailed and killed everyone except for David. Much is made of how the death of Kevin’s father left him in the sole care of his abusive mother, which brought on Kevin’s split personalities. Long story short: Glass didn’t only create the Overseer; he also created the Horde.
This rather underwhelming twist results in getting the Beast angry enough to smash up every bone in Elijah’s body, and he dies in his mother’s arms while proclaiming that he’s a “mastermind” because he creates superheroes.
Meanwhile, David and the Beast end up fighting inside the hospital’s water tank, but eventually come spilling out onto the parking lot, and David has been seriously weakened by his exposure to water. A security guard walks up to him, but instead of helping him, forces his face into a puddle. This shot also reveals that the guard has a strange three-leaf clover tattoo on his wrist.
Meanwhile, Casey confronts the Beast and is again able to bring Kevin Wendell Crumb into the light. He momentarily loses his powers, allowing him to be shot in the chest by a sniper. Nice going, Casey. He too dies, cycling through a few of his personalities before becoming Kevin again just in time to die in Casey’s arms.
Ellie comes up to a drowning David and puts out her hand, revealing that she too has the three-leaf clover tattoo on her wrist. As David dies, he takes Ellie’s hand and gets a vision that reveals another big twist: Not only does she believe the men have superpowers, but Ellie is really a member of some sort of secret society that travels from city to city, eliminating all superhumans. She insists they’re not evil, but “there just can’t be gods among us.”
And to wrap it all up, David dies from… being drowned in a four-inch puddle in a parking lot pothole. It’s a fittingly underwhelming death for an underwhelming movie.
In the aftermath, Ellie erases all surveillance footage of the fight, and instructs the hospital staff to never speak of what happened. She and her secret society are about to move on to the next city when she learns Elijah pulled one last trick. His real plan was to get the entire fight on camera, and somehow, he planted code in the hospital’s computers to upload all the surveillance video and email it to Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s mom.
The three decide to post the footage on the internet and they go sit in an Amtrak station and watch people as the news reaches their phones. To a voiceover from Elijah about wanting the world to “awaken”, it seems the truth is out.
That’s the whole thing. Almost the entire movie is everybody sitting in a mental hospital yammering on about comic books and superheroes and supervillains, and when the action at long last kicks in, it all unfolds on the front lawn of said hospital, and then about ten minutes later everybody’s dead. It’s about a half-hour’s worth of plot stretched out to three times the length with useless speeches, useless flashbacks, and characters acting like minor plot twists are massive bombshells.
I have to wonder if Shyamalan really did want the climax of the film to happen at the Osaka Tower skyscraper, but had to severely scale back his plans due to a limited budget. The film cost $20 million, almost double that of Split, but one would imagine a lot of that went to Willis and Jackson’s salaries. Though really, if you’re going to pay Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson to be in your movie, what kind of sense does it make to not give him a single line of dialogue until an hour in?
About the best that can be said about this sort-of trilogy is that does provide a story arc for Elijah; here’s a man who knew nothing but excruciating pain his entire life, who in his own disturbed way found some purpose to his miserable existence. But ultimately, this is a man who decided to become a supervillain because he’s disabled. His condition is a real condition, and as far as I know, nobody with osteogenesis imperfecta in real life has ever decided to turn into a mass-murdering psychopath. And the way everyone speaks in such reverent tones about the twisted life of Mr. Glass suggests a filmmaker who takes his own material far too seriously.
As usual, the biggest flaw with Shyamalan’s filmography is that while he’s unquestionably a talented director, he still insists on only directing his own hit-or-miss scripts. But this has been his modus operandi going all the way back to 1992, so it’s really time for all of us to stop expecting him to ever change.
Sadly, the Unbreakable Trilogy takes us from a movie that was ahead of its time, deconstructing the cinematic superhero genre long before it would become ingrained in the popular consciousness, to one that came out years too late, and covers all the same ground as the previous two movies but with far less subtlety and skill. It probably would have been best to leave Unbreakable alone (or even Split, for that matter) than to come up with this rushed, half-hearted sequel. This Franchise Evolution, like so many others, is more a case of Franchise Devolution.