Spoilers ahead for Glass.
M. Night Shyamalan has made twist endings the signature for most of his movies. He rocketed to acclaim with the twist for The Sixth Sense, and the majority of his movies have featured some kind of twist ending. His latest film, Glass, is no different as it includes three major reveals in the film’s final act, and each one fails to elevate the movie or solve its larger issues.
The biggest problem with Glass is that it lacks character development or emotional arcs. It feels like an outside observer made the movie and so the character driving the action forward is Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) rather than the characters we know, David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), and Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). A story that starts out promising enough devolves into guys just sitting in a room being lectured by Staple and then there’s a big fight in a parking lot. It’s purposely low-stakes (the film keeps nodding to a set piece at a new tower that never happens), but then Shyamalan unloads three twists at the audience.
The first twist relies wholly on coincidence. Dunn’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) discovers that the train wreck where David was the sole survivor is the same train crash that killed Crumb’s father. The thinking goes that Price was therefore responsible for both Dunn and Crumb because if Crumb’s father had come home, he would have gotten his son the help that he needed and The Beast and The Horde would never emerge. It’s kind of a stretch, and it also just raises more questions. Why did the train wreck cause the emergence of two superpowered beings whereas the other catastrophes caused by Price—the apartment fire and the plane crash—have no effect? To go to a question raised by Staple, why are these three men the only three who have emerged in the last 19 years?
The question of the lack of other superheroes goes to the second twist. We learn that Staple is not an average psychologist studying delusions of people who believe they are superheroes. She’s part of a secret organization whose members are marked by clover tattoos, and whose mission is to eradicate superpowered beings because they bring imbalance to the world. Yes, the shadowy organization is a comic book trope, but because Shyamalan hasn’t spent much time building it, the reveal comes off a random and unnecessary. If anything, the shadowy organization seems worthy of their own movie, a la Split, where we can get to know them on their own terms rather than just having them show up with 15 minutes left in the movie. As it stands, they feel like a plot convention without a point.
Finally, there’s a third twist where we learn that Price planned the whole showdown as a “suicide mission” of sorts where he planned to die along with Crumb and Dunn so that the world could see the footage from the security cameras broadcast and know that superpowered people are real. This is couched in a message of empowerment where the footage is meant to show us that people can be more than what they think because the world is more than what they think.
It’s a nice message delivered by the wrong messenger. Set aside the fact that anything that goes viral tends to disappear down the memory hole in short order, and that even if people saw footage of Dunn bending steel or Crumb running on all fours, their first thought would be probably be, “I wonder what brand this is promoting?” The larger issue is that Price is a villain, so why does he get to deliver the heroic message about the power of realizing superpowered strength? This is a guy who murders others in cold blood to make his point known, so seeing a relieved Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), Joseph Dunn, and Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) as Elijah’s message spreads across the Internet is kind of icky. It’s like a religious zealot got away with it, and we should be happy because his message makes us feel better.
The three twists of Glass may be surprising, but none of them carry much weight. Compare this twist to the one in Unbreakable, where the twist isn’t just “Elijah was bad the whole time!” The twist is that we’ve been watching two origin stories, not just one, and that superheroes and supervillains are inexorably tied together. It’s a twist set up meticulously throughout the movie and you can easily spot what Shyamalan is doing once he brings everything together. But does it matter that Price was ultimately responsible for the death of Crumb’s father? Or that there’s a shadowy organization out there thwarting superpowered people? Or that people now know there’s video of superpowered people?
I’m sure for Shyamalan, it all adds up to something as he continues to riff on comic book conventions and notions of destiny and power, but within the confines of Glass, everything just falls apart for a deeply unsatisfying conclusion.