Thursday, January 17, 2019

'Glass' sounds a weak final chord

James McAvoy still stands out, but director M. Night Shyamalan brings his trilogy to a tepid close.
Director M. Night Shyamalan's superheroes arrived on screen without the cache of Marvel or DC Comics branding. No comic books made Shyamalan's characters familiar to legions of young people. In Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016) -- the first two parts of Shyamalan's trilogy of superhero films -- Shyamalan tried to stake out his own territory.

I have friends who admire Unbreakable, a movie that I was happy to forget. I was more inclined toward Split, which featured a bravura performance by James McAvoy as a disturbed young man with 23 personalities. A 24th loomed in the person of The Beast, a superhuman killer who terrorized young women.

Before Split, Unbreakable brought two main characters to the fore: Bruce Willis portrayed David Dunn, a former football player turned security guard who discovered that he had amazing survival powers because his bones couldn't be broken. Samuel L. Jackson played Mr. Glass, an evil genius who was Dunn's opposite: Glass -- a.k.a. Elijah Price -- was born with bones that shattered easily. Ergo, Mr. Glass.

Now comes Shyamalan's attempt to bring these three characters together for a finale. Before it reaches its dreary conclusion, Glass proves downbeat and lumbering with Shyamalan vainly and (misguidedly) trying for some last-minute inspiration. Glass stands as a big-screen fizzle rather than what it should have been: a resonant symphonic chord at the end of a pop-cultural symphony.

Willis's Dunn -- a.k.a. The Overseer -- returns to stalk Philadelphia's streets with the help of his now-grown son (Spencer Treat Clark). Dunn dons a hooded rain parka when he's serving as a vigilante for good. Early on, he finds himself battling with The Beast, the most horrific member of The Horde, the name given to McAvoy's character's collection of personalities.

As those who've seen Split already know, McAvoy's Keven Wendell Crumb captures young women and torments them, turning them into an audience for a dazzling display of his multitude of personalities. He also does what some entertainers might occasionally fantasize about doing to their audiences: He kills them.

In Glass, McAvoy remains the liveliest member of the trio. Jackson's Mr. Glass spends much of the movie in a state of drug-induced stupor and Willis presents a grizzled version of a character whose economy of expression suggests an abiding depression.

Putting the three characters together inevitably reduces McAvoy's screen time, which doesn't help dispel the movie's gloomy inertia.

Credit Jackson with delivering the movie's twisted philosophy with an eloquence that makes you wish he didn't have to spend half the movie slumping in a wheelchair and not speaking.

The screenplay more or less succumbs when it contrives to place the three characters in a mental institution that's being run by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist who insists that she wants to save these misfits by convincing them that they're not superbeings but ordinary folks operating under grand delusions.

A couple of other actors reprise roles from earlier movies. In some very bad make-up, Charlayne Woodard plays Glass's mother. Anya Taylor-Joy reappears as the only young woman to have survived The Beast's murderous ways, although she seems to have forgotten that several of her friends didn't. Casey now believes she can speak to the real -- i.e., normal -- person behind all those Horde personalities, which include the conniving Patricia and fan-favorite, nine-year-old Hedwig.

You can get the general idea of what's going on without having seen either of the two previous movies, but the story will be clearer to those who understand its references and who recall prior plotting. Besides, I can't imagine why anyone who isn't a fan of the first two movies would want to see this one.

Glass can be faulted for many sins, some of them forgivable, dullness being the only one that really condemns it, a kind of torpor perhaps bred by all the gloomy atmosphere.

The movie doesn't end the way most superhero movies do. Even so, the odor of musty irrelevance settles over the whole enterprise. If you see Glass, I advise not thinking too much about what Shyamalan might be trying to say. I wonder if he knew.

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