3:21pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Glass': What the Critics Are Saying
M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is almost in theaters, bringing to an end the 19-year story started in 2000's Unbreakable and continued, unexpectedly, with 2017’s Split. For a writer/director so enamored with the last-minute reveal, the very prospect of a final chapter seems too tempting to not include some kind of surprise — but is the surprise that the movie isn’t that great?
The review embargo on the film lifted Wednesday afternoon, and based on early reviews, those hoping for an exciting, creepy and explanatory conclusion to the trilogy might be a little disappointed on two of those three fronts.
“As a trilogy-closer, it's a mixed bag, tying earlier narrative strands together pleasingly while working too hard (and failing) to convince viewers Shyamalan has something uniquely brainy to offer in the overpopulated arena of comics-inspired stories,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeFore, asking, “Is Glass the least satisfying chapter of an often enjoyable, conceptually intriguing trilogy? Or is it an attempt to launch a broader Shyamalaniverse, in which ordinary men and women throughout Philadelphia and its suburbs will discover their own inspiring abilities?”
As bad as most of the reviews for Glass may be — and they are, just wait — at least some people are willing to grant that the movie has things to enjoy about it. Take Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, who wrote, “Shyamalan and cinematographer Mike Gioulakis compose each frame — sharp and crisp — with a careful offness. As has almost always been the case, Shyamalan’s command of camera and composition far surpasses his abilities as a screenwriter — although the sober goofiness of Glass’s script does fit kinda nicely with the film’s mannered, alluring aesthetic. There’s a thoroughness to its auteurship, at least — a cozy trip back to Shyamalan’s brief aughts-era heyday, when so many of us hung on his every heavy word. He also remains amiably committed to the idea that every crazy thing in the world could happen in Philadelphia, and I felt disarmingly glad to be invited into his gloomy and looming city once more.”
Germain Lussier of io9 agreed, writing that Glass “feels like a movie from a filmmaker who has some amazing puzzle pieces — and yet, even after almost 20 years, no clear vision of how to put them together. There are moments of greatness which are overshadowed by a vast majority of confusing and muddled scenes and intentions.”
Others were less kind. “[T]he trouble with Glass is that its mildly intriguing meta-textual narrative is so much richer and more compelling than the asinine story that Shyamalan tells on its surface,” argued IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “With Glass, the issue isn’t that there’s nothing to see, but rather that there’s nothing to hide. McAvoy is climbing on the walls in the first 20 minutes, and the Wizard of Oz is staring you straight in the face.”
Many critics looked elsewhere for blame for the movie’s failings. “You can forget Mr. Glass and The Beast. Editing is the real villain of Glass,” suggested Chris Evangelista of /Film. “Unbreakable was tight and enthralling. Sure, it moved at a slow, reserved pace, but there was life burning in that unhurried momentum. Glass is lost in seemingly endless scenes that clobber the viewer over the head with the same info again, and again, and again. There’s one specific therapy scene where Dr. Staple talks to all three super-men at once that goes on for so long, with such dreadful pacing, that I started to wonder if the projector was malfunctioning and playing the same scene on a loop.”
That need to overexplain came up again and again (perhaps fittingly, considering). “Every single curveball in Glass ends up whiffing,” pointed out Polygon’s Karen Han, “as the film takes a few extra beats to laboriously spell out what’s already been implied — each development is shown to the audience, and then explained out loud by one of the characters — halting momentum and deflating any sense of surprise that might have breathed a little life back into the increasingly cumbersome story.”
The Playlist’s Rodrigo Perez agreed. Shyamalan, he suggested, “doesn’t trust the intelligence of his viewer and his ending — which practically halts in its tracks several times to explain itself — is a truly underwhelming non-starter that lacks self-awareness.” Perez further complained that “Glass unravels hard in its spell-everything-out, twist-heavy third act which also suffers from a resounding anticlimactic dud of an ending, despite the director’s best efforts to frame it as something gloriously epic and melodramatic.”
Over at Slate, Sam Adams came up with a possible explanation for why this might be the case. Shyamalan, he wrote, is “the evil mastermind detailing his plot for world domination, knowing that the villain’s monologue is a terrible cliché but unable to resist the urge.”
Does that make for an unfortunate experience for the viewer and arguably a worse movie overall? Sure, and Glass’s reviews certainly seem to bear that out. But, if nothing else, it’s thematically appropriate. Does that count as a last-minute twist?