*** SPOILER WARNING! ***
Some films don’t do as well at the box office as the studios had banked on and yet some often go on to cultivate a large amount of kudos and a strong fan base. 2000’s Unbreakable certainly fell into this category for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan.
Whilst it did ok at the box office, it failed miserably in comparison to the huge box office haul and overwhelmingly positive critical response of his previous film, the standout hit that was, The Sixth Sense (1999).
Going into his follow up to the “I see dead people movie” (as Samuel L. Jackson recently referred to it), Shyamalan was being touted as the new “Wunderkind” of modern cinema, “the Spielberg of his generation”, and many anticipated a slew of modern classics to follow in his filmography over the next few years. Unbreakable was perhaps a sure sign that the predictions may even hold some weight. Whilst it didn’t exactly set the box office alight, it did provide a glimpse into what the future may hold for cinema audiences from M.Night, as many cinema goers, and those who subsequently saw it on DVD, found enjoyment in his movie and actually found a basis for the often touted line of a darker and more realistic take on the Superhero genre that was so often bandied about in the pre-screening promotional promises of the release of such a movie.
Those who didn’t enjoy the film perhaps thought that it was misstep from an overly ambitious and relatively new director and were perhaps almost ready to forgive him should he make a course correction down the line but sadly this was not his version of Spielberg’s 1941.
Whilst he would follow Unbreakable with a relatively good box office haul in the Mel Gibson starring Signs in 2002, his films then began on a steady slope of financial failing and critical mauling and in fairness most of this was justified as we saw with 2004’s The Village and 2006’s The Lady In The Water, not to even mention Mark Wahlberg talking to plants who were trying to kill off mankind in The Happening (2008) and whilst I will openly admit to never actually having seen The Last Airbender (2010), from what I have seen of it, I’m pretty confident that I would be in agreement with the general consensus of opinion regarding that particular film.
Over the years I’ve heard many speculations of why this “What if Superhero’s were real movie?” (My apologies to Mr Jackson for highjacking his description method), failed at the time. It could be argued that the marketing was all wrong. That the public were sold the movie as if it was another supernatural thriller, only to then find themselves watching, what is in essence, a comic book movie. It could certainly be said that Unbreakable was ahead of its time and that if only we were at the point where we now find ourselves, in the golden age of comic book movies, that a film like Unbreakable would’ve been seen as a healthy alternative and a different take on these comic book behemoths that have become, to the chagrin of some and the delight of others, one of the dominant movie sub-genres of our time.
For me, both of these arguments hold some degree of weight, however, there are counter arguments to both. Whilst the dawn of this century didn’t have the massive influence of internet opinions that today’s climate benefits from (or suffers from, depending on your point of view), we weren’t exactly caveman back then. Word of mouth would’ve surely played it’s part in the weeks after the film’s initial release and as for the Superhero world not being as richly populated as it is today, I will again agree that whilst this was definitely the case, movies such as 1998’s Blade had proved that there was a taste for comic book transitions to the big screen and let’s not forget that in 2000 we also saw the X-Men hit the cinemas in their first highly successful outing. In fact, if you were to compare Unbreakable to Tim Burton’s two Batman outings, Joel Schumacher’s 1995 Batman Forever and the dire Batman & Robin in 1997, you could argue that some film goers were subconsciously wishing for an alternate take on the big screen Superhero tale.
I’m sure we could all offer theories as to why Unbreakable never became a massive financial success, but rather than wasting any more time in debate, let’s just accept that sometimes films take a while to catch on in the public zeitgeist. Simply mention two of John Carpenter’s now widely regarded, “classic films” such as The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China and then go back and take a look at their initial reception as proof of this.
Shyamalan’s latest film, Glass, sees the culmination of almost twenty years of anticipation from fans of Unbreakable, who likely believed that they would never see a sequel to the film, only to then be given a huge rush of adrenaline at the conclusion of M. Night’s comeback gig in the form of 2016’s Split. Shyamalan had made no secret over the years that he always intended Unbreakable to be the first film in a Superhero trilogy and hats must be tipped for his deeply secretive agenda with Split. Although the film’s secret final twist was quickly revealed in today’s social media reliant culture, the very fact that it’s ties to his Superhero story were not alluded to prior to its release was a breath of fresh air in these times of film trailers virtually mapping out a film’s entire plot in less than two minutes. Of course the cynical may view this tactic as something of a marketing master strategy that worked beautifully but I’m prepared to give both the film’s director and its distributors the benefit of the doubt. So without further ado, let’s move onto the movie itself and in the interests of fairness, I must point out that I have waited almost half my adult life to see this film, being a huge fan of Shyamalan’s original film.
Starting off nineteen years after Unbreakable (we are reminded this more than a few times during the movie) and in the aftermath of Split, we find David Dunn still plying his vigilante trade, replete with his green hooded poncho on the streets of Philadelphia. His acts of vengeance and retribution have not gone unnoticed and this mysterious hero has now gained the moniker of ‘The Overseer’ through various internet platforms. Dunn is no longer a Stadium Security Guard and his cover for his alter ego is provided by his security business, where he’s assisted by his son Joseph (played once again by the now adult Spencer Treat Williams) who acts as almost the Alfred to this alternate world Batman by using his computer skills to map out various crime locations and providing a control room should his father need assistance. We later find out that the family has now lost its matriarch as Dunn’s wife and Joseph’s mother, Audrey has passed away after suffering from leukaemia (not at all unlike the comeback tale of a more iconic fictional Philadelphian, as this bares more than a passing resemblance to the loss of Adrian in 2006’s Rocky Balboa).
Whilst Dunn has carried on in his vigilante hero role that we saw come to life at the conclusion of Unbreakable, he now faces a much tougher foe than he has ever had to before in the form of the multiple personalities inhabiting the mind of Kevin Crumb (James Mcovoy), in his reprisal of the lead character from Split. The Hourde (as the character is referenced to in television reports) is still on the loose and has kidnapped and killed several groups of women during the short period of time unseen between the two films, and Dunn is now hot on his tail to capture him and not only save the hopefully still alive bunch of teenage cheerleaders he recently abducted, but also to dispense his own form of justice to their captor.
What could be a game of cat and mouse between the two gifted individuals is actually resolved pretty quickly and this leads to both of these exceptional individuals being captured by the authorities and placed in a mental health institution alongside Elijah Price, aka Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Price, we’re told, has been a prisoner at this facility since the conclusion of Unbreakable, and spends his days under heavy sedation to stop his evil brain from plotting any further dastardly deeds. Somehow though, Mr Glass is suspected of escaping his cell each night and this has called for the installation of new security cameras around the facility. All three men are then subjected to therapy under the guise of Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), whose main objective seems to be to prove to these patients that they are not really Superheroes or Evil Masterminds, and that they are instead delusional, due to head injuries and childhood trauma alike.
One would think that after nineteen years of proving otherwise in Dunn’s case, or the fact that Kevin Crumb can actually metamorphose into a Hulk-like animal known as ‘The Beast’, that can crawl across ceilings may be a bit of a sticking point to this particular thought process, but both men seem to actually believe the doctor in a relatively short space of time. Each individual is held captive in their own personal kryptonite cell. Dunn under the threat of a huge water-tank that will flood his room in reference to his one weakness highlighted in Unbreakable.
Kevin’s cell door is guarded with strobe lights that cause his personality to continually change until a less violent personality emerges and frequent visits from the captive survivor of Split in the form of Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) are actually allowing his true and less dangerous persona of Kevin Crumb to emerge more frequently.
Price’s sedative is supposed to slow his evil genius, except he’s somehow managed to switch his medication without anybody noticing, but he will of course play dead during visits from his long suffering mother (once again played by Charlene Woodard, with some very heavy make-up to highlight her character’s advanced years), or when in front of any of the Hospital’s staff. Of course the nefarious Mr Glass soon hatches a plan to prove Dr Staple’s diagnosis wrong in his plot to get both of the other men to do battle at the opening of a brand new skyscraper that now dominates the Philly skyline so that the whole world can see their true identities. The building is even referred to as ‘a true Marvel’ (see what they did there?) in a rather on the nose meta-reference.
When David refuses to break out, Price informs him that if he doesn’t, that he’ll blow up the structure and kill thousands of innocent people, leaving the once reluctant hero to have put on his Superhero poncho once again. Inevitably, all three men then break out and we are treated to a rather dull battle which is viewed by Joesph Dunn, Elijah’s mother and Casey Cooke (who all just happened to turn up at that precise time), on the grounds of the institution which definitely serves to highlight M. Night’s limitations as an action director. But wait! Here comes the twist! Joseph Dunn then runs to his father’s aid and informs Kevin that his own father, who died and left him at the hands of an abusive mother, was actually on the same train that Price caused to crash at the beginning of Unbreakable. The years of ensuing subsequent abuse, thus causing his multi-personality disorder. Kevin is none too pleased as one would imagine and subsequently reacts in a way that you would imagine a person with the persona of ‘The Beast’ would and Mr Glass’s body is subsequently shattered into pieces.
Dunn and ‘The Beast’ then engage in a battle that sees them end up in the aforementioned water-tank leaving David in a weakened state. ‘The Beast’ then decides to tear the city apart but is stopped by his former captor and this act of compassion allows him to once again turn back into Kevin, except that in his weakened state, he is then shot and killed by by a police sniper with a distinctive small tattoo on his hand.
Dunn is now the only ‘Super’ left alive, but another police officer then begins to drown the weakened vigilante in a puddle left from the collapse of the water tank. This officer also has the same tattoo. Whilst gasping for air, Dunn is approached by Dr Staple who asks him to take her hand and, yes, I’m sure you’ve guessed it, she has the same distinctive tattoo. Clever twist number two! Through Dunn’s ability we are then able to see the Doctor taking part in a secret society meeting that kills Superheroes as they believe that the world should never know that these Gods walk amongst us mere mortals. The fact that she could’ve done this to Dunn at least a few times in the last nineteen years or to Price at pretty much any time during his incarceration is quickly explained away due to the fact that this anti-Super Illuminati is actually quite touchy-feely and would rather convince these exceptional people that their super powers are all a self made delusion. But wait, there’s one more twist.
It appears that Elijah Price was scheming for all this to happen all along. He’d been flaunting his escape skills every night so that the Doctor would insist on more cameras being installed in the facility and he had hacked into the feed and sent footage of this battle to the three innocent bystanders at the scene, Joseph Dunn, Casey and his own mother. This trio then decides soon afterwards, to form their own alliance and leak the footage onto the internet so that people will now know that Superheroes exist and the audience is simply expected to accept that nobody would question it or simply call the footage a hoax. “Screw You Dr Staple and your secret society with its ten thousand years of clandestine operations!” Yep, this was the final twist that Mr Shyamalan went for.
To put it simply, Glass is not a good film. One could argue that yet again Shyamalan has fallen victim to the public’s expectations due to the film’s marketing, but in all honesty this movie had set out its own blueprint long beforehand. We could have rightly expected a Superhero battle royale between Unbreakable’s hero, Split’s villain and a dash of input from the main villain that this film bears the name of, but instead we’re given something very different and whilst I will agree that M.Night was once again trying to present us with another piece of misdirection, I believe that lessons should’ve been learnt from his previous mistakes and Shyamalan’s folly in this third film highlights a degree of arrogance towards his audience especially those who have championed Unbreakable for nearly two decades. There was a viable alternative to a simple Good Guy verses Bad Guy Film here, and I for one hoped that Glass would give us something more than that, but unfortunately, what we are presented with here doesn’t give us such variation. Instead we are given a rather dull and drab affair after a fairly positive start, with Shyamalan seemingly running on empty and trying to succeed each, rather dull surprise twist, with yet another suitably drab revelation, one of which is supposed to surprise its audience even though it was pretty much confirmed in the second film’s conclusion. It got to the point where a “Scooby Doo alternative ending” felt like it was on its way.
There are some positives in the performances of McAvoy, who once again gets to showcase a plethora of characters with suitable applause from this writer and as I previously mentioned in a past review, it’s always nice to see Willis actually want to be there, rather than his sadly more and more frequent, recent appearances as a man just happy to collect a paycheque for his performances in whatever straight to home video release that he gets offered that week.
However, one really cannot help but think that the script and plot of Glass is the product of Shyamalan rushing to capitalise on the success of 2016’s Split, which rather flies in the face of his previous assurances that he had planned all of this out from the beginning. Financially of course this will not hurt him as he self financed the relatively low (for a Superhero film anyway) budget, which is said to be around $20 million and in a bizarre twist of fate, Disney will once again benefit from their investment in comic book movies as they actually own the rights to the Unbreakable characters through their ownership of Buena Vista Studios. A deal is said to have been struck whereby they’ll receive a percentage of the box office gross but I cannot help but lament that they didn’t take a more active role in financing this movie and allowing more time for a better story to emerge. Of course there is no guarantee that this would have helped and perhaps Shyamalan wasn’t willing to sell his soul to the House Of Mouse in the first place but the facts are that we are now in the Golden Age of comic book movies, most of which have emerged from Disney’s ownership of Marvel Studios and this film had so much potential to provide the alternative that was alluded to earlier on in this piece.
There may well have be some sort of Marvelesque mid or end credits scene that provides some solace or consolation to my bitter disappointment. Unfortunately I couldn’t confirm if there is as I’d left the cinema less than a minute into the credits. After waiting nearly two decades for the conclusion to Shyamalan’s trilogy, I can honestly say I wished he’d left it there and not tarnished the reputation of a film I have such genuine fondness for, a film whose reputation it seems sadly wasn’t unbreakable.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 5/10
Glass is on general release now.