In 2000, director M. Night Shyamalan capitalised on his Oscar-nominated The Sixth Sense fame with Unbreakable, a story about a man named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who finds out he possesses super strength after he survives a train crash orchestrated by a genius with Brittle Bone Disease named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). The film received praise for its original approach to the conventional superhero genre but failed to keep Shyamalan’s momentum going.
Over the next 15 years, the director went on to make a series of badly received and commercially unsuccessful films, from The Village to The Happening to The Last Airbender. That, however, changed with the release of Split in 2016, a story following Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) who kidnaps a couple of high school girls, causing a statewide search. The film marked Shyamalan’s return to form and shocked audiences with a last minute twist — a staple of the director’s filmography — that revealed a connection to Unbreakable and sparked rumours of a possible sequel. Now, three years after the release of Split, the Eastrail 177 Trilogy has finally come to a close with the newly-released Glass.
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Intersecting the storylines from the first two films, Glass finds the three men detained in a mental institution where Dr. Ellie Staple (an always fabulous Sarah Paulson) has taken the men on as case studies to further her research in psychiatric delusions — to prove to them that they are not the superheroes they believe they are, rather that they suffer from delusions of grandeur.
It’s an interesting way to connect all the characters together, but one that fails to properly bridge the gap between the first installment of the series — released a whopping two decades ago — and its sequels. Unbreakable managed to introduce a fresh take on the superhero narrative, one that re-evaluates what it means to be good and evil and the proportional relationship that exists between the two. Revisiting this narrative take in Glass, Shyamalan again poses interesting questions about the blurred lines between good and evil but fails to draw much of a connection to Split aside from including its main character in Dunn and Prince’s arc. In doing so, the director has created a film that is more a sequel to Unbreakable alone rather than making a sequel to both films, a flaw that renders the storyline forced and jeopardises the viewer’s experience in assuming that those who joined the trilogy after Split went back to watch the 19-year-old original film.
To go a step further, the very aspect of Split that drove people’s interest in a sequel is what Glass lacked most of all. What distinguished Split from Shyamalan’s earlier efforts was the intellectual richness of the film: through presenting a character with access to multiple versions of himself, fascinating notions about the true capacity of human nature were explored. For a filmmaker whose filmography is plagued by being interesting in its concepts but messy in its execution, the film was a welcome surprise indeed. That said, Glass is a step backwards from that. As opposed to capitalising on the aforementioned notions and building on them, the film packages the intersecting narratives of Dunn, Price, and Crumb into a strange superhero movie that seldom holds, despite strong performances from its cast, primarily McAvoy.
In a sea of MARVEL and DC Comics superhero films, one can appreciate what Shyamalan tries to do with his trilogy. Despite how much of a mess this last installment is, the concept is undeniably an interesting approach to the superhero trope, but the faults in this film are too large and too many to ignore, and it seems Shyamalan’s lucky streak has run its course yet again.