The sly question teased in “Unbreakable,” the mystery that sets it apart from run-of-the-mill grandiose superhero fables, is whether Dunn is the real deal or if Glass merely wants a foil worthy of his self-aggrandizement. In “Unbreakable,” Dunn starts off as a seemingly average guy, a security guard who’s strictly a Clark Kent. Dunn knows that he’s different (he senses evil through touch), but his powers awaken only because of Glass. When the new movie opens, Glass is under wraps and Dunn has been stealthily doing his superhero thing for a while, sneakily saving the day under cover of the security company that he runs with his son (Spencer Treat Clark, reprising the same role).
“Glass” opens smoothly with some small-scale heroics that set the humorous, twitchy tone and showcases Dunn, who’s still fighting while wearing an identity-obscuring rain poncho. The off-the-rack costume is crucial to his low-key charm and vibe. It’s also representative of Shyamalan’s eccentric, intimately scaled superhero universe, one that leans on quirks of personality and quotidian fears rather than on computer-generated special effects and world-destroying brawls. His heroes and villains are invariably more ordinary — and human — than extraordinary, which raises the stakes and amplifies the tension.
Shyamalan finds a way to cram Dunn, Glass and Crumb into the same fictional universe, but he hasn’t found a persuasive way to make them fit together. He seems to know that, and so, after the reintroductions and other throat-clearing preliminaries, Shyamalan just locks all three in the same mental hospital. There, they are tended by a spectacularly inept shrink, Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson), who insists that they are merely delusional. The actor Luke Kirby, who’s currently playing Lenny Bruce on the Amazon show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” pops up as a hospital attendant, casting that I turned into an imaginary franchise crossover whenever “Glass” started to sag.
And it does with increasing frequency, even if, for the most part, there is enough in the movie — creeping cameras, off-kilter boos, eye-popping mauve and especially its three male leads — to offset the longueurs, obvious filler and rickety plotting. Shyamalan has been celebrated for his twisty stories, but his truer strength is his gifts for infusing outwardly banal moments with dread and for his work with actors. McAvoy takes his shirt off distractingly often (his pumped bare chest is a special effect), but his quicksilver character changes are fun and often delicate. Jackson and especially Willis remind you again of how fine they can be when asked for more than booming shtick and smirk.