M. Night Shyamalan’s GLASS disappointed me, a statement I wish I didn’t have to write. Given the critical success of THE VISIT and SPLIT, it looked as if Shyamalan had finally discarded the late 2000s funk that made his name a punching bag. Even more intriguing was SPLIT’s ingenious twist, revealing its plot to co-exist in the world of Shyamalan’s superhero deconstruction film UNBREAKABLE. For the first time in forever, a Shyamalan film was surrounded by hype.

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The Overseer on Patrol, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

At first glance, GLASS’ existence makes sense, revitalizing an early superhero film in an era where the genre’s seen major mainstream success. Perhaps Shyamalan had a final story to tell, one that blended UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT’s themes into one epic low-budget confrontation. At least, that’s what the trailers and the first two acts suggested. We had a decent set-up, Shyamalan’s unique visual style and an award-worthy performance from James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, aka the Horde. And THEN the ending happened.

Anyone familiar with Shyamalan knows his passion for plot twists. GLASS outdoes his previous filmography with three consecutive final act twists, all of whom I have mixed feelings over. Frustratingly, you can see Shyamalan’s thematic ambition in these twists, but the transition from script to shot just doesn’t work. They try to make the film appear bold and ambitious but raise too many questions in the process.

GLASS, Meet BEAST and OVERSEER

GLASS had the burden of merging two films with wildly different depictions of superpowers. UNBREAKABLE alluded to the possibility of super beings in the real world without confirming their existence. It has all the hallmarks of comic book iconography, but very few fights or CGI-heavy showdowns that proliferate modern superhero films. Instead, protagonist David Dunn’s (Bruce Willis) dynamic with Elijah Price (Samuel Jackson) rooted itself in a philosophical mystery about whether superpowers truly exist in our modern reality.

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David Dunn Needs Help? Courtesy of Universal Pictures

SPLIT, by comparison, wastes no time propping up Kevin’s supernatural nature. The plot is more simplistic, with three girls forced to navigate their way around Crumb’s twenty-three personalities. Compared to UNBREAKABLE’s more subdued characters, each of Kevin’s mental inhabitants feel exaggerated, distinct and a tad bit hammy. However, the emergence of a twenty-fourth personality — the flesh-eating, wall crawling beast — openly declares this character as superpowered. No questions about it.

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Annoyed McAvoy, Comatose Jackson, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Combining these tones together, Shyamalan opts for a middle ground where David and Kevin’s powers, while visible, are repeatedly questioned by an outside source. We had an early fight between David and the Beast, but it’s broken up by Philadelphia police who quickly sent them both to a mental hospital. It’s the same hospital that houses the heavily sedated Elijah Price. The three were placed under the care of Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who works with patients who claim to have superpowers. Rather than focus on action, Shyamalan instead re-devotes time to questioning the existence of powers in a world that’s supposedly “normal.” Are David and the Horde outliers? Or does their existence allude to a repressed, enhanced portion of humankind?

First Name Mr. Last Name, GLASS

Elijah Price is GLASS’ meta-textual puppet master. He’s the guy who desperately wants the film to become a superhero film, mainly so he can validate his long-running thesis. A thesis that suggests superheroes are real and comic books have documented their abilities throughout history. For someone who has lived his entire life trapped in a brittle body, this theory sparks inspiration and hope for members of a seemingly bleak society.

So Mr. Glass wants to reveal the existence of such supermen to the world — how does he do it? By staging a real-life comic book plot, of course. He convinces the Beast to attack a brand-new Philadelphia skyscraper so that he can blow it up, all the while convincing David to escape and thwart his plan. It’s a fairly decent set-up, just enough to forgive the rather minimal character activity Shyamalan gave Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson during the second act.

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Elijah Price is Back Mother*******, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Unfortunately, this is where GLASS begins its Shyamalanization process. Rather than fight, Shyamalan places emphasis on the main character’s rejection of Dr. Staple’s psychic evaluation, asserting their inhuman abilities without fear. The escape, rather than a physical fight, was meant to be the film’s true climax.

Shyamalan wants to have it both ways — thematic commentary meets a modern hero brawl — but neither feels well executed. There’s a lack of visible choreography during the final fight, presumably as a statement on the exhaustive nature of a real-life superhero battle. To that, I’d recommend DAREDEVIL’s hallway fight for a more comprehensible visual example. But more importantly, the conflict underwhelms because it deliberately fails to create stakes beyond the hypothetical “big bad” scenario. Once the twists are revealed, however, things start to get messy and convoluted.

Twist #1: What a Coincidence!

GLASS’ first big twist isn’t so much shocking as it is confirmation of a fan theory surrounding its characters. SPLIT mentioned that Kevin Crumb lost his father in a train crash and suffered mental abuse at the hands of his mother. The resulting trauma ultimately created Kevin’s split personality as a defense mechanism to shield him from further harm. But, as David’s son Joseph reveals during the final fight, that wasn’t the whole truth.

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Don’t Anger the Beast, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

It turns out Mr. Crumb didn’t just die in any Pennsylvania train crash, but the one Mr. Glass orchestrated in UNBREAKABLE nineteen years ago. It’s a case of the “comic parent withholding valuable information” trope, as GLASS openly admits. Without a father figure to protect young Kevin, the Horde emerged as his adolescent supernatural protector. Thematically, this reveal is the best of the three. It ties Elijah Price’s mastermind ambition into his search for purpose, instigating a disaster that birthed both a superhero and a supervillain. He self-created an “origin story” for not only David Dunn, but the Beast as well, albeit at the cost of Kevin’s innocence. And, like most self-created monsters, the Beast turns to Price once it realizes his actions hurt the personality it was entrusted to protect.

Twist #2: Who are The Clovers???

The second twist, by comparison, is easily the weakest, mainly because it feels so random. As Glass succumbs to his injuries, a number of squad cars arrive at the hospital to contain the situation. In a shocking turn of events, “containment” involves shooting a de-Beasted Kevin and drowning David in a watery pothole.

A bigger twist: These officers belong to a secret society that covers up the existence of metahumans, and Dr. Staple is a member. You know they’re a secret society because everyone has matching clover tattoos on their arms. The good doctor’s job: either convince metahumans that their powers aren’t real, or kill them before those powers become public. Either way, the illusion of normality remains intact.

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What’s Up Doc?, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

As a Shyamalan character would put it, “this is the part where the evil shadow organization reveals its existence to the hero.” Such groups are a staple of comic books: Hydra, the Hand, the League of Assassins, and the Court of Owls, to name a few. But the thing about evil shadow organizations is that their reveal must be the culmination of some far-reaching buildup. The Clover Society (my name for them), on the other hand, comes out of nowhere.

Apart from the vision and some Shyamalany-post-climax dialogue, they were barely alluded to in GLASS, let alone UNBREAKABLE or SPLIT. Granted, this does confirm Elijah’s theory that some unspecified rationale has censored public awareness of real-life superheroes. But without foreshadowing the organization’s history, they feel like a literal Deus ex Machina. It also raises far too many questions on why the Clover Society never targeted David, Elijah, and Kevin prior to GLASS’ storyline. David’s death is also remarkably underwhelming. What a disappointing way to finish off a character’s arc.

Twist #3: The Power of Misdirection

The third twist is a weird hodgepodge of my thoughts on Shyamalan’s first two revelations. It fits with GLASS’ overarching themes, but the execution falls apart the more you think about it. As some background characters exposition out loud to Dr. Staple, you should never underestimate the bad guy’s scheme because there’s always an ulterior motive.

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The Side Characters Assemble, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

It turns out Mr. Glass’ villain plan was just a red herring. He deliberately took the long way out of the mental hospital, allowing the security cameras to capture his, David and Kevin’s movements. This included a showdown between Overseer and the Beast on the hospital’s front lawn. For all the Clover Society’s resources, they clearly forgot about the power of social media. Price sent the footage to his closest allies — Joseph, his mom, and Kevin’s former kidnapped victim/friend Casey — who then uploaded it to the internet. Now clips of men lifting cars and bending steel like a 1938 Superman are public for all to see. People can finally embrace an identity that was formally the stuff of fiction.

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Meet the Beast Guards, Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Except…. would this really convince people that superheroes exist? People already knew about David’s vigilante exploits and the Horde’s existence, so what makes this video so different? Nothing about the footage distinguishes itself from the vast supply of internet content and homemade VFX uploads. In other words, GLASS expects us to accept that one video swayed enough of the human race that superheroes exist.

It feels like too big a stretch, even by movie logic. I get Shyamalan’s underlying message: expose the truth, and those in hiding will be empowered to reveal themselves. Ironically though, UNBREAKABLE “realism” aesthetic kneecaps GLASS’ ability to feel more epic than it looks.

Shyamalan Cinematic Universe: Closing Remarks

As a critic, I’ve always been conflicted over M. Night Shyamalan’s career. I won’t deny he’s a genuine risk-taking filmmaker, something that deserves recognition in Hollywood cinema. But these risks have always been undermined by the reoccurring storytelling flaws found throughout his films. Unintentionally hilarious interactions, stilted acting and over-expositional screenplays — the tropes are infamous. Also THE LAST AIRBENDER — my most hated film of all time — which needs no explanation.

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“If this were a Comic Book…,” Courtesy of Universal Pictures

GLASS is definitely better than Shyamalan’s worst entries, which is a sign of optimism. But it too succumbs to his Achilles heels: unfiltered exposition dumps and sudden plot twists that halt the film’s momentum. And when a film’s ending- the part responsible for wrapping up loose story ends- raises more questions than answers, it just leaves viewers disappointed. As a fan of UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT, GLASS’ ending felt both confusing and unsatisfactory.

It unceremoniously kills off the main characters, introduces new parties without warning and reveals a “true” master plan whose logic is rather flimsy. It’s a shame that nineteen years of hype concludes with an anticlimax that isn’t quite as grand as GLASS wants you to believe. Mainly because, like most M. Night Shyamalan films, there’s always a glimpse of potential hidden beneath his questionable story decisions. Kind of like Shyamalan’s interpretation of the superhero genre, I suppose.

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