Movie Review: Can M. Night Shyamalan's 'Glass' Make Its Trilogy Connection Clear?

Jan 18, 2019
Originally published on January 18, 2019 6:50 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To talk about the new M. Night Shyamalan thriller "Glass," we need to go back to the year 2000.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "UNBREAKABLE")

SAMUEL L JACKSON: (As Elijah Price) It has begun.

KELLY: At Samuel L. Jackson in Shyamalan's thriller "Unbreakable." And exactly what had begun was not entirely clear back then. In 2017, it became a little clearer in his movie "Split." Well, our critic Bob Mondello says now the question is, can the movie "Glass" make it as clear as, well, glass?

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Actually, I'll get to "Glass" in a moment. First let's talk a little about trilogies, three connected works that collectively form a new work. The Greeks did it with tragedy. In literature, there's "Lord Of The Rings" written as a single book and broken into three because the publisher didn't expect it to sell very well. And in film, trilogies are everywhere, as a character in "Scream 3" points out when other characters think they're just in the sequel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SCREAM 3")

JAMIE KENNEDY: (As Randy Meeks) If you find yourself dealing with an unexpected backstory and a preponderance of exposition, you are not dealing with a sequel. You are dealing with the concluding chapter of a trilogy.

DAVID ARQUETTE: (As Dewey Riley) Trilogy.

KENNEDY: (As Randy Meeks) That's right. True trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn't true from the get-go. "Godfather," "Jedi" all revealed something that we thought was true that wasn't true. So if it is a trilogy you are dealing with, here are some super trilogy rules.

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, we'll dispense with that. But he's right about how trilogies differ from, say, the James Bond or Marvel sequels. Trilogies work together as self-contained units, which means that from fairly early on, they're planned that way, as in the "Back To The Future" movies or the trilogy of trilogies that "Star Wars" turned into. "Glass," on the other hand, is the conclusion of a stealth trilogy, one that nobody knew was a trilogy for 17 years. The big reveal was a coda at the end of the second film, "Split," when Bruce Willis, the good guy who was unbreakable in "Unbreakable," showed up as the public was just learning about James McAvoy, the bad guy who was split in "Split."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPLIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Because of his many personalities, he is being called The Horde.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) This is like that crazy guy in the wheelchair that they put away 15 years ago. And they gave him a funny name, too. What was it?

BRUCE WILLIS: (As David Dunn) Mr. Glass.

MONDELLO: As in the Samuel L. Jackson character in "Unbreakable" who, instead of a super power, had a super weakness - bones that chatter easily. And at that point, we all knew that M. Night Shyamalan had been playing a long game, even longer than the one he played in "The Sixth Sense" where he saved his big reveal for the final minute. Seventeen years is a seriously long game. And in "Glass," his task is to bring us along.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

SARAH PAULSON: (As Dr. Ellie Staple) Maybe this will all make sense if I explain who I am.

MONDELLO: OK, go for it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

PAULSON: (As Dr. Ellie Staple) My name is Dr. Ellie Staple, and I'm a psychiatrist. My work concerns a particular type of delusions of grandeur. I specialize in those individuals who believe they are superheroes.

MONDELLO: Clear enough, and she's collected three such individuals in her asylum. So how to get the game started - perhaps by bringing in the unbreakable guy's son and Mr. Glass' mom and the split guy's victim for a superhero roundtable.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Did you know the first Superman couldn't even fly. And Metropolis is actually New York City. And what about all the coincidences in what I was reading?

PAULSON: (As Dr. Ellie Staple) Comic books are an obsession. Have you ever been to a comic book convention?

MONDELLO: Sorry - sliding off track here, doctor. Bring us back.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

PAULSON: (As Dr. Ellie Staple) Your dad is trying to fight her abductor. Your son is trying to best his dad. He's the anarchist. He's the brains. He's the reluctant hero. This all sounds very familiar, doesn't it?

MONDELLO: Well, yes, but that's not really a selling point if we've been kept waiting for almost two decades. You go to a Shyamalan movie looking for the twist which fits nicely with a trilogy's need to give you something at the end that wasn't evident at the beginning. But "Glass'" twist requires so much explaining it doesn't end up feeling all that twisty. Shyamalan does get sharp performances, especially from McAvoy, who'd better be getting paid more than his co-stars 'cause he's certainly working harder with all those personalities.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

JAMES MCAVOY: (As The Horde) I'm Mary Reynolds. Por favor, Senor. We almost got you, bro.

MONDELLO: But the fact is that where "Unbreakable" was ahead of the superhero curve in 2000 - Shyamalan was actually urged to downplay its comic book aspects - "Glass" is now behind the curve. And no amount of directorial pointing and saying, look; I made a comic book movie...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GLASS")

JACKSON: (As Elijah Price) This is where they would paint you with big eyes and bubbles of confusion above your head.

MONDELLO: ...Is ever going to be enough to fix that. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.