A colleague remarked this week that licorice is a thing that is not appreciated by that many people but that those who like it really, really like it. I suspect the same could be said for “Glass.”
Here are a few things that work against M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller-isn’t-quite-the-right-word: It is often ridiculous, featuring a center for the study of people who think they’re superheroes that is treated with somber earnestness. It is not scary or suspenseful. Its reverence for comic books runs to people saying dumb stuff like, “The enemy becomes the ally because of the hero’s unflinching sense of good,” while that dumb stuff is happening in front of our eyes.
And the movie is late, seeing as how it’s a sequel to “Unbreakable,” a 19-year-old movie that came out before the superhero movie glut — especially the “X-Men” movie glut — revealed how reliant Shyamalan is on the “X-Men” comic books’ metaphoric message of a world balanced by good and evil superpowers.
All that aside, I really enjoyed “Glass.”
Here are a few reasons why: Shyamalan can be a wobbly writer, but his directing craft doesn’t waver; his use of space in “Glass” is exciting because he takes advantage of the movies’ ability to show us things in a way we haven’t seen before. His casting instincts are also on-point, with newcomer Sarah Paulson (she’s in charge of that Earnest Superhero Center) joining returnees from “Unbreakable” and “Split,” both of which you need to have seen to even hope to appreciate “Glass.”
I don’t know if this applies for fans of “Split,” which I thought was just OK, but if you’re a big fan of “Unbreakable” — which I am — it is intensely satisfying to see Shyamalan developing ideas he laid down in it.
Not everyone is going to get as teary-eyed as I did to see Shyamalan repurpose the best moment from “Unbreakable,” in which a father (Bruce Willis) and son (Spencer Treat Clark) share a silent secret over a meal at the kitchen table, so your mileage may vary. Nineteen years after we first met them, those characters have morphed into a superhero team, with the son helping his father, who is impervious to pain or harm, rid Philadelphia of evildoers.
One such evildoer is a maniac (James McAvoy) whose latest crime gets him and Willis tossed in the same superhero center as Samuel L. Jackson, the evil mastermind from “Unbreakable.” Or, as someone actually says out loud without giggling: Anarchist, Brains and Reluctant Hero are united in one place.
The “Unbreakable” stuff elevates “Glass” because the actors slide back into these roles so expertly and because they were cast so well in the first place. Willis’ whispery underplaying is ideally suited to David Dunn, who is so frightened of his own powers that it took him decades to discover them, and Jackson’s flashy intelligence is perfect for Mr. Glass. I’ve barely seen Clark since he was a child actor, but he has become a decent, warm presence, and Charlayne Woodard, whose performance as Glass’ protective mother was the secret weapon of “Unbreakable,” is even better this time out. Could she get her own movie, please?
“Glass” wants to lay out a Bible-adjacent explanation for why we need good and evil in the world, and I don’t think it succeeds at that. But it is a frequently clever elaboration of the “Unbreakable” morality tale and, to me, that feels like enough.