With “Glass,” which debuted in theaters this weekend, the writer and director M. Night Shyamalan is attempting a tricky feat: a double-sequel, which continues the stories of both his 2000 comic-book drama, “Unbreakable,” and his 2017 psychological thriller, “Split.”
Franchise fusion is usually an indication of desperation — see “Alien vs. Predator” or “Freddy vs. Jason” — but Shyamalan’s decision to connect these divergent films was admirably ambitious — and a clever way to finally craft a follow-up to “Unbreakable,” which that film’s muted initial reception seemed to preclude. (Shyamalan has said that Kevin Wendell Crumb, the main character in “Split,” was first conceived as a character in “Unbreakable.”)
[Read our interview with M. Night Shyamalan about “Glass” and the “Unbreakable” universe.]
“Glass” is steeped in the world Shyamalan created in those films (also known as Philadelphia, but with superheroes and supervillains), and it assumes familiarity with their characters and events. If you haven’t seen “Unbreakable” or “Split,” or it’s been a while, here’s what you need to know before seeing “Glass.”
We first meet David Dunn (Bruce Willis) on a passenger train from New York to his hometown, Philadelphia; that train derails en route, killing every passenger except David, who not only survives, but also emerges with nary a scratch. In time, we discover he has never broken a bone, never had a serious illness and never even succumbed to a common cold.
Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), the wheelchair-using owner of a comic-book art gallery, is an expert on the history and archetypes of the form. He offers an explanation for David’s run of extraordinarily good health: David is a Superman-style hero, blessed with special powers of strength and vision (when he touches strangers, he can see their darkest secrets). And when David recalls how he nearly drowned as a boy, Elijah determines that water is his weakness — his Kryptonite, as it were. Elijah’s knowledge of comics grew out of his own history: From birth, he has struggled with a rare disorder than renders his bones especially brittle and easy to break. When he was a child, his classmates called him “Mr. Glass.”
When we meet David, his marriage to Audrey (Robin Wright) is all but over, and his relationship with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is clearly remote. His brush with death causes the couple to give their union a fresh start, while the discovery of David’s newfound gifts helps him forge a new bond with Joseph. When David finally accepts Elijah’s explanation of his fate and saves two children from a twisted home invader (while wearing the green poncho of his day job as a security guard — effectively his superhero costume), David insists that his secret identity stay between him and his son.
Once David’s course is set, he shakes hands with Elijah and finds out the terrible truth: the art dealer is, in fact, a supervillain who caused the train derailment (and several other horrible “accidents” before it) in order to flush out his superhero nemesis. According to the closing titles, “Elijah Price is now in an institute for the criminally insane,” and that’s where we find him in “Glass.”
Kevin Wendell Crumb
James McAvoy stars as Crumb, a deeply disturbed young man with Dissociative Identity Disorder. He has 23 distinct personalities fighting for control of his mind and body. “The Beast,” a more dangerous 24th, is on its way.
These alter egos (or “alters”) are referred to, in both “Split” and “Glass,” as the Horde. They include Barry, a fashion-loving good guy who prides himself on being the Horde’s functional, public face; Dennis, the tough, obsessive Alpha male who has “taken charge” of the personalities alongside Patricia, a stern, matronly type, and Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who says “et cetera” a lot; and the Beast, who seems to comprise the various animals at the zoo where he works (and where he keeps his victims, in an underground maze of abandoned cages and tunnels).
Kevin’s “alters” frequently reference stepping into “the light,” a shorthand phrase describing when a personality has taken control of his body and mind. In “Glass,” his captors use a large bank of strobe lights to force a switch in whatever personality is dominant.
The central action of “Split” has Kevin (as Dennis) kidnapping Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two of her classmates after a birthday party and confining them under the zoo, where they await their sacrifice to the Beast. She ultimately outsmarts the Horde (she discovers she can disarm and confuse them by calling Kevin by his full name) and escapes. And so does Kevin, who (as Patricia) says of the Beast: “Look at what he can do. Let him show the world how powerful we can be.”
The link between these two films was initially kept quiet: a surprise final scene in which patrons at a local diner connect the Horde to “that crazy guy in the wheelchair that they put away 15 years ago.” He also had “a funny name,” one of them remarks. David is carefully revealed, sitting next to them, and he provides the two word reminder: “Mr. Glass.”