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'Glass' review: M. Night Shyamalan's mostly gripping, but often goofy tale

Samuel L. Jackson, left, as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass

Samuel L. Jackson, left, as Elijah Price/Mr. Glass and James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Horde in "Glass," written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.  Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

PLOT Three real-life superheroes are incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital.

CAST Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson

RATED PG-13

LENGTH 2:09

BOTTOM LINE M. Night Shyamalan’s sequel to “Unbreakable” and “Split” is a compellingly stripped-down alternative to the glitzy Marvel universe.

M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” from 2000, began with a list of statistics about comic books, from the average number sold per day (172,000) to the total time a typical collector spends reading them (about one year). The movie, about a real-life superhero, seemed to require this preface to explain that comics were more popular than many of us knew. And so perhaps, like stories of UFOs or paranormal phenomenon, they contain a grain of truth.

Twenty years later, superhero myths are a main staple of any pop-cultural diet. You might think Shyamalan’s attempt to continue the story of “Unbreakable” with his new film, “Glass,” would feel outdated or obvious. Remarkably, it doesn’t. “Glass” is not an entirely successful movie; it’s mostly gripping but often a bit goofy. Still, Shyamalan’s original vision of superheroes in an everyday world remains compelling and appealing.

For fans of “Unbreakable,” “Glass” reunites Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a Philadelphia security guard who taps into his superpowers late in life, and Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, a self-appointed arch-nemesis. Both hero and villain have been incarcerated at Raven Hill, a psychiatric hospital where Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) insists their grandeur is merely delusion. Because the characters are kept in different rooms, they share little screen time, but the actors are in good form: Willis still oozes Dunn’s sense of middle-age regret, while Jackson easily reincarnates the hyper-intelligent, ever-amused Price.

Most of the best moments come courtesy of James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin from “Split,” the surprise hit from 2016 that made “Glass” possible. Kevin, also locked up in Raven Hill, is a serial killer with more than two dozen personalities, and we get to see virtually all of them. A strobing light, installed by Dr. Staple, instantly changes Kevin’s channel, from cowboy to schoolmarm to 9-year-old. For McAvoy, it’s like improv night on crystal meth, and he’s a wonder to behold.

“Glass” works well as a claustrophobic, slow-building thriller despite a somewhat clumsily executed ending. The climactic battle feels unfocused; Anya Taylor-Joy, as Casey (also from “Split”), suddenly grows in importance; and the Shyamalanian twist we’ve come to expect since “The Sixth Sense” isn’t fully convincing. Flaws and all, though, “Glass” is a uniquely bare-bones, real-world take on an increasingly familiar genre.

Moviegoers have a love-hate relationship with M. Night Shyamalan: He’s famous for making bad movies, but people keep coming back because his good ones are so darn good. Here are his four highest-grossing movies worldwide, according to figures from BoxOfficeMojo.

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) The moody chiller with the gasp-inducing twist is still widely considered to be Shyamalan’s best movie. It’s also still his biggest hit, with $672.8 million.

SIGNS (2002) The director’s real-world take on an alien invasion, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, impressed critics and audiences alike. Its total gross is $408.2 million.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010) Surprised to see this title in the top four? Shyamalan’s kid-oriented fantasy is his worst-reviewed movie, with 5% on RottenTomatoes, yet it managed to earn $319.7 million.

SPLIT (2017) After many a dud, Shyamalan bounced back with this inventive horror-thriller starring James McAvoy as a kidnapper with multiple personalities. It earned $278.5 million against a reported $9 million budget. — RAFER GUZMAN

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