When Unbreakable was released at the start of the millennium, superhero films were few and far between. We were yet to get the Nolan reinvention of Batman, the Marvel universe was merely a series of sporadic blockbusters handled by different studios and in all honesty the genre was seen as something of a joke.
M. Night Shyamalan was riding high off the success of The Sixth Sense. Reteaming with that film’s star, Bruce Willis, the director once again opted to set his follow-up movie in his hometown, Philadelphia. Willis was now back at the top of the Hollywood A-List, and the surprise success of The Sixth Sense meant that both men had a tough act to follow.
Unbreakable focuses on David Dunn (Willis), a man whose seemingly ordinary life which is thrown into disarray following a catastrophic train crash. Everyone on board is killed, except for Dunn, who survives the ordeal without a single scratch.
Soon after, he is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a comic book art gallery owner who is convinced that Dunn survived the crash because he is a superhero.
Dunn soon realises that Price’s theory is accurate, and soon becomes a costumed hero familiar in comic books, but with a very contemporary twist.
So how does this all lead into Unbreakable 2? Well first of all, here is an interview we conducted with Shyamalan about his latest film Split. It does contain a few spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the terrific James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy thriller yet, look away now.
The final scene of Split sees McAvoy adopt the persona of The Beast, a fearsome character who is physically capable of causing great carnage. The Beast escapes capture from the authorities and as a group of diners watch a news report about recent events, they are reminded of Price’s escapades in Unbreakable. One asks what was his nickname… and the camera pans round to David Dunn (Willis, looking suitably aged) who says “Mr. Glass”.
As Shyamalan said in our interview, this has been his plan all along. An expanded superhero universe of his own design. In subsequent interviews, the director has confirmed that he wishes to make a sequel to Unbreakable as his next film, and I for one can’t wait.
The Marvel and DC universes are rapidly running out of steam. They become more and more preposterous as the few ‘grounded’ characters have to mix it with the supernatural ones. Batman is now going to be seen side by side with Aquaman in Justice League and Iron Man has already spent time with the Norse god of lightning.
We need a return to the recognisable superheroes who operate within a world we can recognise. The powers possessed by Dunn are plentiful, but he is still vulnerable. His version of stopping a speeding bullet was to talk down his son from shooting him by threatening to leave the family home.
Mr. Glass, a name cruelly given to Price by school kids due to his brittle bone disease, is the perfect foil to Dunn – a man on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of his physical capabilities as well as his moral compass. In this world, Glass could easily find The Beast, and the pair would be justified in hunting down Dunn for answers about their existence.
Unbreakable is just what the genre needs. The most common complaint we hear about superhero films is that there are just too many and that they are all the same. In the time between David Dunn’s first appearance and this potential sequel, we will have seen three Spiderman reboots. That is proof of the real problem, a lack of foresight despite the ever-expanding universes.
The film played with all the clichés and tropes that have now become a sure-fire turnoff for the casual viewer. The outfit Dunn wears is just a modified version of his regular security guard workwear. Mr. Glass, the arch-nemesis of Dunn, has a skewed justification for what he does, and this makes him a villain we have to take seriously. Even the ‘weakness’ that can stop Dunn is one so mundane that it places his character in constant jeopardy. Imagine Superman being thwarted by a tall glass of water instead of an ultra-rare alien element?
I firmly believe Shyamalan has been planning a return to the Unbreakable franchise for a while. Split was just a taster – the main course will be even more satisfying.