Glass is really terrible. This should have been a major victory for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. It's partially a sequel to Unbreakable, which is one of his best films, and partially a sequel to Split, which is one of his biggest hits. Rather than tying everything together in a satisfying package, the movie is maddeningly self-indulgent. Shyamalan has aspirations of creating a cinematic mythology based on the structure of comic books. That turns out to be way less exciting than it sounds (if, in fact, it sounds exciting in the first place).

Sarah Paulson plays Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychologist who specializes in treating patients who believe they have superpowers. She's able to institutionalize three such people: strong-man David Dunn (Bruce Willis), multiple personality sufferer Kevin (James McAvoy), and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a criminal mastermind suffering from a syndrome that makes his bones shatter with the slightest touch. Dunn and Price are, respectively, the hero and villain of Unbreakable, while Kevin -- or at least one of his various identities -- is the villain of Split.

The first eighty minutes of Glass are surprisingly dull. They consist mainly of Ellie meeting with the men individually and trying to convince them that mental health issues, not special powers, are behind their abilities. The characters barely interact with one another, a fact that runs counter to what we anticipate coming in. Strong writing would have compensated for this particular problem, but Shyamalan's screenplay is uncommonly flat, with no real tension built during the first two acts. For a shockingly long time, it's not even clear what Glass is about because there's no discernible plot in motion.

At that 80-minute mark, it seems like the movie might pick up significantly. Price at long last reveals his evil plan. It sounds pretty thrilling but -- and I'm not kidding here -- Shyamalan never shows it to us, opting instead for a lengthy confrontation between the main characters in the institution's parking lot. Everyone stands around pontificating to one another about how comic book-y their situation is. The supposedly intense climactic fight between Kevin's alter ego, The Horde, and David is rendered inert because it's filmed primarily in single-person close-up. McAvoy appears to be fighting the cameraman, and since David wears a hood, we can't see Willis (or, likely, his stunt double).

Here's the bottom line: These aren't characters, they're archetypes. M. Night Shyamalan doesn't have a story, he has a thesis. Glass is designed to be a reflection of how comic book stories are assembled, how heroes and villains are often mirrors of each other, and how elements in superhero tales tie together in deeply meaningful ways. There are two flaws with this. First, the movie's insights are not exactly original. Second, what Shyamalan is trying to do -- or at least the way he attempts to pull it off -- leads to excessive verbosity. For a film about superheroes and supervillains, Glass is awfully talky.

Willis, Jackson, and McAvoy do good work with weak material. McAvoy, in particular, impresses again with his ability to abruptly shift between Kevin's personalities. There's only so much the actors can do, though. Shyamalan ends the movie with one of his patented plot twists. It's borderline laughable. He clearly has what he believes are some profound ideas about the nature of comic books, yet translating those ideas into a feature film is beyond his grasp. Glass is silly and dull when it should be thoughtful and tense.

out of four

Glass is rated PG-13 for for violence including some bloody images, thematic elements, and language. The running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.