(L-R) James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bruce Willis reprise their
respective roles from "Split" and "Unbreakable" in "Glass".
M. Night Shyamalan's decades-long career as a director is a classic real-life Hollywood story that fits perfectly with "the rise, fall and rise again" definition.
He rose from a nobody (1992's "Praying With Anger" and 1998's "Wide Awake") to an overnight Hollywood sensation thanks to his 1999 surprise box-office hit, "The Sixth Sense", which also earned him six Academy Awards nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Haley Joel Osment in his unforgettable performance as Cole Sear with his equally memorable "I see dead people" quote.
M. Night's biggest success was, of course, the Mel Gibson-starring "Signs", a feat that he never got to replicate ever since.
Then, along came his subsequent movies that was met with mixed-reviews (2004's "The Village") or became critically-panned (e.g. 2008's "The Happening" and 2013's "After Earth").
Just when you thought his career is over, he managed to revitalise it with the low-budget horror thriller "The Visit" in 2015 and again in "Split" a year after.
Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in "Unbreakable".
Somewhere in between, M. Night Shyamalan made "Unbreakable", a superhero-themed thriller that was released during the height of his "Sixth Sense" heyday. It wasn't as financially successful as his 1999 bonafide hit and it even received mixed reviews at the time of its release back in the late 2000s.
Frankly, it's easy to see why. "Unbreakable" was released at the time where the superhero or comic-book genre wasn't even a valuable commodity yet, besides, the superhero genre only officially took off in Hollywood when Marvel launched "Iron Man" eight years later in 2008 and the rest, as they say, is history.
But back in 2000, releasing a superhero-themed movie like "Unbreakable" and particularly one not based on the well-known IP or existing property whatsoever, proved to be a huge, risky move. Yes, it's true that like-minded movies such as "Blade" in 1998 and the first "X-Men" in 2000 did show some positive signs of life and yet, Hollywood and most audiences weren't as accustomed or enthusiastic as they are in the current age of superhero genre these days, which is why it came to no surprise that "Unbreakable" was largely viewed as an underrated effort.
Bruce Willis and Spencer Treat Clark in a scene from "Unbreakable".
Now, upon revisiting the movie again in preparation for the upcoming sequel of "Glass" this 17 January 2019, it is worth noting that "Unbreakable" is way ahead of its time. The time where it seems unthinkable back in 2000 to witness a dark, brooding and serious-minded superhero movie that doesn't exactly spell "family-friendly". You could even say that M. Night Shyamalan's follow-up to "The Sixth Sense" acted as a precursor for the future superhero movies, most notably Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" which was released five years later. A precursor where the hero and the villain are depicted as flawed human beings with relatable life issues and their superpowers are more of a curse or burden than an outright blessing.
Bruce Willis played David Dunn in "Unbreakable".
In "Unbreakable", Bruce Willis' David Dunn may have been the movie's hero. But he's hardly the classic type of superhero that most of us would have imagined him to be. Instead, he is more of an ordinary joe who works as a security guard at a college stadium. He's pretty much living a mundane life with his estranged wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and their only son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Even when "extraordinary" things happen to him, particularly after he miraculously became the sole survivor of the otherwise fatal train crash that killed 131 passengers and crew, his life remains as stagnant as before. He only felt more confused than count his blessing when he found out that he's never been sick or physically hurt, or the fact that he possesses an unusual strength.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah Price a.k.a. Mr. Glass in "Unbreakable".
The introduction of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who was born with a rare brittle-bone disease that earned him the nickname "Mr. Glass", is the movie's antagonist. Like David Dunn, he is not your average antagonist whose plan is "to take over the world" or "create massive destruction for power or ransom's sake". He is just as flawed as Dunn and his superpower leans heavily on his intellect and a wealth of inner knowledge on comic-book theories and mythologies.
Like most M. Night Shyamalan's movies, "Unbreakable" is slow and dialogue-heavy, which can be either a curse or a blessing. While some parts are admittedly too languid in its pacing, it's hard to deny that the movie remains absorbing enough if one pays close attention to its thought-provoking storyline that subverts the superhero genre inside out. Shyamalan also successfully brings the best out of his respective actors' performances including Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson as well as strong support from Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark.
Will "Glass", the highly-anticipated sequel to "Unbreakable" manage to match the narrative brilliance of its 2000 predecessor? Given Shyamalan's continuous winning streak of "The Visit" and "Split" back to back, it looks as if "Glass" is bound to hit another jackpot both critically and financially at the worldwide box office.
"Glass" opens in cinemas nationwide on 17 January 2019.
Cinema Online, 08 January 2019