Were you amazed by James McAvoy’s performance as a schizophrenic in “Split”? Did you enjoy watching him run through several personalities, including a prissy woman and a lisping nine-year-old? Did you wonder why on earth he didn’t get an Oscar nomination that year? And would you ever dream he could top that with something even more impressive?
Well, get ready for “Glass,” another thoughtful, well-acted thriller from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan.
Critics have largely bashed this film, but even if they were right, it would still be worth seeing for McAvoy alone. The closing credits list 20 different characters next to his name; I doubt you’ll see a more impressive performance this year.
“Glass” completes a trilogy that began with “Unbreakable” in 2000 and continued with 2017’s “Split.” Both tales involve characters of supernatural strength: McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb in “Split” and, in the earlier story, David Dunn and Elijah Glass -- played, respectively, by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Here the three men are committed to a psych ward, where a doctor (Sarah Paulson) works to convince them that their alleged superpowers are a delusion. Thanks to a dandy opening sequence, the audience knows better; and it says much for Shyamalan’s story-telling that we root for the men to prove Paulson wrong, even though two of them (McAvoy and Jackson) are bad guys.
Willis’ mild-mannered security guard -- who has earned the media nickname “Overseer” through Batman-style vigilantism -- will have his hands full when the villains team up to plot an escape and show their powers to a watching world.
Into this taut storyline Shyamalan also weaves the fates of a teen McAvoy abducted in “Split,” along with that of Glass’ loving mother and Dunn’s son. All three are played by the same actors from the earlier films, with particularly excellent work from Anya Taylor-Joy as the abductee and Spencer Treat Clark as the son.
Since I don’t read other reviews before writing my own, I can only guess that critics didn’t care for Shyamalan’s tendency to spell things out, putting exposition plainly into dialog in a way that can feel stiff and artificial. But to some degree, he gets away with this because he’s essentially making a live-action comic book, rife with monologuing villains and rock-em-sock-em superheroes. A more notable fault is that if your bad-guy threatens to blow up a skyscraper, you really ought to do something more than just show it in the background several times.
As for the ending: Shyamalan is known for twists, and I thought I had this one figured out; but I was wrong on several counts, and that’s very cool. Along with the acting -- and Shyamalan’s penchant for not showing too much blood and gore -- the multifaceted resolution will surely satisfy fans of these films, even if the reviewers demurred.
Critics! What do they know anyway?
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Run time: 129 min.
* * * (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence and language