Dear Mr. Shyamalan,
I know you don’t think a lot about those critiquing your films, as evidenced by the treatment of the critic character that Bob Balaban played in your film LADY IN THE WATER, but I think it would behoove you to listen to what they’re saying about your latest. GLASS is hovering at 35% certified fresh at RottenTomatoes.com, a genuinely loathsome score and a 40-point drop from the critical consensus there on your previous film SPLIT. If you accept that critics thought well of that film, then you should recognize the issues taken with your newest.
I wish I could say this is unusual, but for decades now most of your movies have been diminishing returns since your high-water mark of THE SIXTH SENSE in 1999. I will use my time here to identify some of the most egregious elements of your latest, and at the end of it, offer a solution to help you avoid such disasters in the future.
GLASS is badly conceived, with poorly developed characters, and more pretentiousness with every utterance than all the lines the Hugh Simon character says in Peter Bogdanovich’s screwball comedy WHAT’S UP, DOC? from 1972. Nonetheless, because of the marketing apparatus working overtime to sell GLASS, your new film will likely take the weekend. That’s not saying much in a month like January where almost nothing opens in theaters, and most of what remains at the Cineplex is Oscar-bait films that began in December. Some may even find that your new thriller provides an antidote to such high-minded fare, but that doesn’t mean that GLASS is good.
Hopes were high for it though, and indeed, you do start things out with an intriguing premise. What would happen if the three extraordinarily gifted characters, from two of your previous movies, battled it out in an epic smackdown similar to those in comic books? What would that battle of good versus evil play like? Thus, the story starts with Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy), the Philadelphia serial killer suffering from dissociative identity disorder, still at large and creating more havoc. He’s kidnapped four comely cheerleaders, and we know that death awaits them just like Kevin’s teen victims in SPLIT. At least the predator is himself being stalked by someone who can kick his sorry, murdering ass. Aging vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) may be older and grayer, but he’s still fit, still out to right wrongs, and striving to provide the denizens of Philadelphia a sense of brotherly love from his caretaking.
But then, things quickly start spiraling out of control. Dunn gets into a brawl with Crumb while he’s in his “Beast” incarnation, the most violent of his dozen personalities. Even though he thinks he’s unbeatable and pumps himself up with chutzpah and adrenaline, Kevin is not a modern-day “Superman.” That’s the Dunn character, a human being gifted with being “unbreakable.” No matter how many veins bulge in the Beast’s neck, he is still mortal. His bones would break, and he wouldn’t be able to hurt the granite-like exterior of Dunn who survived a train crash and walked away without a scratch from that catastrophe. Yet, the two trade punches like machines from a TRANSFORMERS movie and it strains credulity. It also lessens the entire idea of Dunn, not to mention paints mental illness as a disorder that can defy physics. It cannot.
When they’re both arrested by an alerted police force, Dunn and Kevin get carted off to a mental institution that coincidentally houses Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), AKA “Mr. Glass,” the villain Dunn defeated in UNBREAKABLE 19 years ago. Price seems to be in a catatonic state when we find him, and apparently, he’s been that way for years, but the movie has bigger problems before the story gets to his true state. Specifically, the introduction of Dr. Ellie Stapleton (Sarah Paulson) into the mix brings the movie to an absolute standstill. For the next 30 minutes, this monosyllabic, cliché villain yammers on and on about the three inmates when the film should be showing us them in action.
Instead of seeing the three interact together, you mostly show them just sitting in front of Stapleton while she delivers a ton of exposition, backstory, and critiques of them. It’s like watching a college lecture more than a movie. (Isn’t the first rule of screenwriting show, don’t tell?) Where are the scenes with the three characters encountering each other in the cafeteria or the exercise yard? For all this chatter about good vs. evil, we never get to see any of it play out because these scenes don’t exist. Instead, the middle third of the film just sits there, wasting time on hoary asylum clichés like showcasing not one, but two, sadistic orderlies who seem to be employed only to torture the patients. The institution doesn’t seem to have any other significant employees or doctors on premise, yet somehow manages to have state-of-the-art technical accouterment in every room that would make NASA or the CIA wild-eyed with envy.
As if the snide doctor going on and on about these men in her assessments isn’t static enough, she also starts pontificating endlessly about the philosophical underpinnings of comic books. Of course, this isn’t really Stapleton explaining things at all. Instead, it’s you, sir, ‘fan-splaining’ for all of us beneath your acumen and talent who don’t appreciate you or what you’re trying to do on film. When did you turn into the Comic Book Guy from THE SIMPSONS, bullying us through your pretentious scold of a script? Worst. Lecture. Ever.
Finally, after that long and static hour in the middle, your film’s climax arrives. Glass has been revealed to be faking his catatonic state for years, all the time plotting an escape and the right time to level a big building in town. He’s supposed to be a genius, yet his one dumb plan is wholly dependent on the coincidence of a useful tool like Kevin showing up to help him overpower a couple of paltry and inept guards. After that happens, Dunn of course finally breaks out too and goes after them. But before anyone can get out of the parking lot (the parking lot!), you, sir, decide to stage the final battle to the death right there.
SWAT teams show up to stop the mayhem, yet no one fires a kill shot. Why? Kevin is a known serial killer so why the kid gloves approach? Cops shoot all too quickly at unarmed bystanders and kids with toys these days, but in your world, they’re extremely courteous to not intervene. At least until they decide to blatantly drown a character, that is. But until they, they’re extremely passive to the point of ridiculousness. Guess you didn’t figure out a way to write yourself out of that corner, especially when you wanted to milk the ending for all its worth.
Such appalling writing would not make it past a freshman film student drafting his first script, but it’s part of the sloppiness that has plagued your movies for over a decade now. It’s bad writing not stick to physical rules. It’s equally egregious to give a key figure like the character Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) so little to do in this film considering the large part she played in this sequel’s predecessor. It’s even worse to saddle Paulson with such an appalling one-note character, who poster notwithstanding, emerges as the true main character here. Unfortunately.
You once said you know the secret to a great movie. Based on your track record, I would hazard a guess that you believe it’s a great, big plot twist. But movies aren’t O. Henry stories, and a rug pull does not a movie make. You know what does? Great scripts.
So, here’s my solution to you to help make better movies. Stop writing and hire screenwriters who can. Film their stories. It worked for Hitchcock, the man you so desperately want to be like, right down to your self-serving cameos in every film, so it should work for you. Bring someone else’s story to life with the skills you’ve accumulated behind the camera in the last 20 years, but please stop making these terrible movies. It’s not filmmaking. It’s infuriating.