M. Night Shyamalan will probably forever be best known for his wild twist endings. Which is actually a little unfair, because at his best — let’s say “The Sixth Sense,” “Signs” and “The Village” — Shyamalan’s twists are preceded by some very sharp moviemaking.
With his new one, “Glass,” Shyamalan has another big finish in store for us. It’s a whopper: a final 20 minutes that expand the film’s universe into something eerie and apparently limitless. All while rounding off an idea that stretches back to his 2000 release, “Unbreakable.”
Well, cool. But there’s a problem: The preceding 100 minutes of “Glass” is a drag — a lifeless affair with ambitious ideas but not much suspense.
The film ties together not only “Unbreakable” but also Shyamalan’s 2017 hit “Split,” a dynamic outing with James McAvoy as a deranged killer with multiple personalities.
Here, McAvoy’s character, known as “The Horde,” is whisked off to a Philadelphia psychiatric hospital along with David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the guy from “Unbreakable.” You will recall — or maybe not, because it’s been 19 years — that Dunn has a miraculous ability to survive any bodily punishment without a bruise.
Just to get the party swinging, the same hospital holds another “Unbreakable” character, Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), whose theory about comic book superheroes (he believes Dunn is a real-life example) is repeated here.
The movie spends quite a bit of time — all of it handsomely designed and directed — with a psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson, in a maddeningly lifeless wig), who tries to convince her patients that they are not actually superheroes.
“Would it surprise you to know,” she asks, “that more and more people have this delusion?” Speaking for myself, during this reign of the Marvel Universe: No, it would not surprise me.
It’s bad enough that Willis and Jackson look completely bored by their limited roles here, or that McAvoy’s repeat of his bravura “Split” performance is a rehash of a very skillful workout.
What’s worse is that once Shyamalan gets his characters into the hospital, they just sit there. Jackson is really underutilized, and it’s only when his Mr. Glass (an alternate name) begins speaking and plotting that the movie starts to shake off its funk.
Returning from previous films are Anya Taylor-Joy, the wide-eyed heroine of “Split,” Spencer Treat Clark, who played Willis’ son in “Unbreakable,” and Charlayne Woodard, who appeared as Jackson’s mother in “Unbreakable.” One thing about Shyamalan: He really excels at keeping his universes straight.
Shyamalan has as many visual ideas as The Horde has personalities — for instance, unlike most filmmakers, he understands the power of something scary seen from a distance. I hope he drops his grand ambitions to explain the Unified Theory of Everything and gets back to freaking us all out.
“Glass” (2 stars)
M. Night Shyamalan ties together his films “Unbreakable” and “Split” with a story about a grand unified theory of superheroes walking among us. It builds to an eerie ending, but first you have to sit through 100 suspense-free minutes, in which Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson look bored and James McAvoy repeats his multiple-personality skills.
Rating: PG-13, for violence