DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
May Contain Spoilers!
I have seen most of the M. Night Shyamalan films since The Sixth Sense (1999), which made a huge impression on not only myself, but most who watched it and that twist, this came just two years later. Unbreakable is a clever, thoughtful and thought-provoking rethink on a well-worn genre at the dawn of the Superhero revolution, which began back in 1998 with Blade, continued in 2000 with X-Men and would lead to a decade with such monumental hits such as The Dark Knight Trilogy and The Avengers but not before the 2002 mega-hit, Spider-man a year after this.
But it’s not clear from the get go as what Unbreakable is, certainly if you went into it cold as I did, beginning with a title card going on about the value of comics books and how many readers there are in the U.S., the movie opens with a mother who has just given birth in the 1970’s to a baby which has broken arms and legs. The scene is well-played and is a disturbing and portentous opening that was is going to be a slow burn drama/thriller.
Cut to present day and we meet David (Bruce Willis) who is travelling on train which subsequently crashes, killing all on board but leaving him without a scratch. This starts him on path of self discovery in which he learns that he has never really been sick, though he almost drowned once and has never been seriously hurt. He also discovers that when he pushes himself that he is remarkably strong, as secret which he shares only with his son and comic book dealer, the baby from the opening scene, Elijah (Samual L. Jackson).
Jackson, who suffers from a rare but debilitating bone disorder which makes his bones brittle, was nicknamed “Mr. Glass” at school and because of his constant injuries as a child, buried himself in comic books, the high-class art of which he sells in his gallery. Jackson becomes a friend and advisor to Willis who by the end of the film finds himself in the house of a suburban family who have been attacked by an insane janitor from Grand Central Station who has murdered the husband, presumably raped the wife and tied up their two children.
He rescues the family, learning that drowning is his “Kryponite” and realises his destiny as a superhero. But upon meeting his friend, Jackson again, he learns that Mr. Glass is the villain, searching for his opposite, he being the weak man and looking for the superman, he is a terrorist who has orchestrated bombings and attacks on civilians, such as the train crash which Willis survived in ten first place.
The beauty of this film is that it tackles the well-worn genre in new way. This is a film, beholden to no-one. The world is much more real than most comic book adaptations, with a villain who commits horrific acts of the family, whilst still casting a traditional megalomania in the role of the true and overriding bad guy. Not for everybody but still a comic book movie in my opinion, this shows just one more way of telling these stories and that they are real stories and not just action pieces.
As for M. Night Shyamalan, his career would continue for a couple more movies but by the time he made Lady In The Water (2007), it would begin to nose dive. Here though, he gentle, precise style works, to slowly build a portrait of man who is seemingly ordinary to that of a man who could go on be extraordinary, even super. Bold choices and a major step forward for the genre as a whole, but I believe that the next substantial move in this direction would be Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, a blend of these darker, theatrical themes whilst maintaining the melodrama which is needed in a comic book adaptation.
A happy FIRST birthday to my baby girl today.