The slide that filled the screen before the press screening of Glass featured a note from director M. Night Shyamalan. Most of it was a gentle plea for viewers to keep the film's secrets—a request I'm more than happy to indulge, so long as I can warn you that all those secrets are fairly fucking stupid—but the note closed with something along the lines of "I hope you enjoy Glass, a story 19 years in the making."
Armchair executives on social media love lodging complaints about Hollywood's aversion to originality—which isn't just a gripe that's older than your grandparents, but was pure bullshit back when they were coughing it up. A thousand-odd films get released every year; it's your damn fault if you solely patronize the roller-coaster rides made in SoCal's 'splosion factories.
But even the grumpiest of Guses would have to admit that one of the most recently successful subgenres is the long-delayed sequel: Creed is a 30-year-late sequel to Rocky IV (and is the best Rocky movie). Mad Max: Fury Road is a 30-year-late sequel to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (and is the best Mad Max movie). Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the best Star War since Empire (until Last Jedi took that title two years later), and only time will tell if Denis Villeneuve really did make a better Blade Runner than Ridley Scott. (Spoilers: He did.)
Glass wants to join that company. Unfortunately, this long-awaited sequel to Unbreakable is much closer in quality to Tron: Legacy than anything else. Glass is a pretty-but-emptily-ponderous mess, it's sole accomplishment being a near-total waste of whatever goodwill Shyamalan had left after spending the better part of a decade as a punch line. As an act of pure regression, it is nearly flawless, with all his worst filmmaking instincts shamelessly indulged—especially his crippling, all-consuming addiction to "The Twist."
Split (2016) didn't have a twist ending, by the way: That James McAvoy's Kevin Wendell Crumb—a supervillain who can climb walls and survive shotgun blasts to the torso with not much more than a pair of rug burns to show for it—occupies the same fictional universe as Unbreakable's David Dunn and Elijah Price might have been a surprise, yeah. But while twists should surprise, not every surprise is a twist. And Split's identity as a skeevy exploitation film—one whose ugly thesis posits that childhood trauma is the key to exceptionalism, and that abuse unlocks potential—was hardly recontextualized by a single scene in a diner where Bruce Willis's leathery head floats out from behind a woman's shoulder.
But Glass stacks up multiple (albeit ill-earned) twists throughout its interminable climax, and asks Sarah Paulson to bear the weight of thoroughly explaining them all, a task she completes with a dead-eyed gloss. Paulson plays Ellie Staple, a doctor who puts Crumb, Dunn, and Price together to suggest the last two movies we saw weren't really superhero movies. The film's success depends on her earning the benefit of the doubt, which is probably why Shyamalan devotes around 70 of Glass' 130 minutes to her never-once-convincing bullshit.
I'm not mad that Glass isn't an action movie, though. Decades of superhero saturation may lead audiences to expect more than the clumsy wrestling that represents the entirety of this film's two showdowns, but Unbreakable was a relationship drama that moved at the speed of warm rubber cement, and I loved it. I'm fine with slow and talky. What sucks is how this talent is completely wasted on this material.
Split just barely worked because McAvoy managed to make Kevin's multiple personalities feel like real people. In Glass, they're a collection of carelessly deployed tics and catchphrases, imbalancing the film in a way not seen since The Happening. Samuel L. Jackson's semi-profound monologuing in Unbreakable is now self-parodical babble, and Willis—who was last caught giving the slightest resemblance of a shit in 2012's Moonrise Kingdom— does his grimace 'n' glower thing on autopilot.
The supporting cast isn't done any favors, either. Anya Taylor Joy (the only survivor of Split) is barely there; Charlayne Woodard, as Mr. Glass' mother, is buried under bad makeup and worse dialogue; and only Spencer Treat Clark, returning as Dunn's now-adult-but-still-wide-eyed-and-earnest son, registers as a human. Well, that's not entirely true: Luke Kirby as a worried orderly is pretty good, but between this and season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, providing brief-but-welcome respite from an acclaimed creator's onslaught of self-indulgent wank is becoming his whole thing.
Shyamalan has said in a recent interview that no matter what happens at the box office, there will be no further additions to this universe. Glass certainly does its job in closing that door and nailing it shut. After 19 years, M. Night Shyamalan finally got to end Unbreakable the way he wanted—and now he's passed it along to us in the worst possible way.