In the year 2000, right around the time comic books and comic book movies became cultural icons, a promising director named M. Night Shyamalan released a movie called Unbreakable.
A movie that was far ahead of its time and wore its influences from comic books on its sleeves. It left an impact on the comic book movie industry and is still relevant in this age.
It gave us a unique take on superpowers and the journey of a hero whilst and served as an indication of the true consequences of being special in a world where no one is.
Fans have clamored for a sequel ever since its release, but M Night Shyamalan entered a low point of his career with major flops like The Last Airbender and After Earth killing all hopes of a competent sequel.
Then, the director surprised audiences with The Visit in 2015. A lot of people assumed it was a fluke.
Then, in 2016, M Night released Split; a psychological thriller about a kidnapper with multiple personalities, the last one having superpowered abilities.
A scene in the movie closing moments changed the entire movie’s perspective when audiences realized that they had been watching a stealth sequel to Unbreakable.
2016 was the height of the cinematic universe craze. The DCEU released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (and broke the internet with “Martha!”), The Mummy starring Tom Cruise and set to launch the Monsters Universe of Universal studios was in development and Captain America: Civil War shattered the Avengers and brought Spider-Man to the MCU.
To realize that an entirely original universe was growing without our knowledge was incredible and the next movie, set to release in 2019, was a highly anticipated event.
Then…Glass was released.
The closing chapter to the Eastrail 177 trilogy was an underwhelming finale that only hinted at the greatness that could have been.
The main characters were portrayed brilliantly, and the first act was fantastic. However, the second act contained elements that dragged down the plot and the third act’s attempt to pick up the movie ended in an underwhelming fashion.
But it must be said that M Night’s attempt to create this new story inspired by the comic book medium but not beholden to it in anyway was a remarkable undertaking that only failed in its landing.
Unbreakable – The Hero’s Struggle
David Dunn (played by Bruce Willis) at first glance is everything you don’t want in a hero.
The most relatable heroes are always those who are beleaguered with problems, internal and external. A great example is how Peter Parker’s life always interferes with Spider-Man’s life and vice versa. But he always tries his best to overcome the obstacles in his life.
David Dunn…is decidedly not that.
We first meet David Dunn on a train attempting to cheat on his wife and the look the little child gives him says it all. Then comes the train accident and afterwards we meet his family. He and his wife couldn’t even pretend to like each other in the hospital as they left. David is stuck in a dead-end job and a failing marriage but doesn’t want or try to do anything to fix his situation.
Then comes the invitation from Elijah Price.
Elijah (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is the true believer we all would wish superpowers on. Born with brittle bone disease, Elijah spends his life exploring comic books as a record of historical events. He is disgusted by the commercial nature his passion has become and seeks to expose the truth and art that comic books truly are.
Elijah challenges David on his miraculous survival and other incidents throughout his life. David is initially dismissive but his curiosity forces him to explore and develop the abilities he has ignored his entire life. As he comes to terms with himself, David also begins to fix his marriage and his relationship with his son.
This journey of self-discovery peaks when David pursues a murderous janitor and saves two children.
Elijah, the ostensible sidekick, is thrilled with the vindication of his theory and drops a bombshell – he was responsible for the accident and many others like it. Elijah was so devoted to proving himself right that he caused so much death and destruction to find David. He becomes the supervillain to David’s hero, the yin to his yang.
Split – The Origin of A Supervillain
Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) is a complex character, to say the least.
Afflicted by DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), Kevin has 24 different personalities that formed as a result of his mother’s abuse when he was a child. The dominant personality “Barry” is careful to prevent two other personalities “Dennis” and “Patricia” from taking control. But “Hedwig” steals control of Kevin from Barry and allows the Dennis and Patricia to carry out a plan that unleashes the 24th personality known only as “The Beast.”
To that end, Dennis kidnaps Casey Cooke (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) and two other girls to serve as sacrifices to the Beast.
The other personalities struggle to maintain the façade of Kevin’s normal life and come to grips with the trauma that created them.
The movie also takes us through the life of Casey, a moody and withdrawn teenage orphan who is abused by her legal guardian.
Casey and the other girls attempt to escape many times but, with the help of Kevin’s therapist, only Casey is able to escape her confinement but The Beast catches up to her eventually. Seeing the scars on her body, The Beast spares her because she is “broken” and more evolved.
Split was a genre game changer as it was solely devoted to telling the origin of a villain. It showed struggles, shortcomings and the eventual triumph of The Beast emerging.
It also didn’t hurt that James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance as he seamlessly switched between personalities and character defining traits.
The final scene that firmly set this movie in the Eastrail 177 universe was just icing on the cake.
Glass – The Problematic Finale
Glass starts out strongly, showing us how David Dunn and his son had developed a comfortable rhythm with their crime-fighting and how they searched for the Horde (the collective that exists in Kevin Wendell Crumb) who was up to his old tricks.
The first act is engaging, riddled with tension and has an amazing fight between David and the Beast.
Then comes the hospital where Mr. Glass has been contained all these years.
Despite some interesting situations, the contained nature the film adopts doesn’t work in its favor.
Unbreakable worked because we got to see David and Elijah Price encounter and react to various scenarios in their homes, at works and in between.
Split was a contained movie for the most part, but the impending doom of the Beast’s appearance and the multiple attempts the girls made to escape stopped the movie from dragging its feet.
In Glass, the threesome (and audience) are forced to contend with Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist out to convince these superhuman characters that they are just ordinary people…something we all know is patently false.
It’s a static situation with almost zero chance of external factors influencing the plot. Unbreakable had the advantage of not being contained but Split solved that with the interactions between Kevin and his psychiatrist.
Dr. Staple tries to explain away David Dunn’s gifts as fantastic observational skills combined with trauma from a brain injury he sustained during the train accident…and we are to assume that the doctors at the hospital he was admitted to did absolutely no tests on him.
She then challenges Kevin (actually “Patricia”) on the bars the Beast was able to bend barehandedly and the walls he scaled with no equipment. Dr Staple presents these occurrences as a result of aging and obsessive research…and again we should just take her word for it.
That she manages to put doubt in their minds about these personal experiences is a mind-boggling leap of faith, but not the biggest problem.
The biggest problem with Glass is that the titular character is actually the hero of the story.
Elijah Price, the man responsible for so many deaths in Unbreakable and the traumatic childhood of Kevin Wendell Crumb, cannot be the hero of the story without a redemption arc.
It would mean that all his actions were justified…and right.
The final twist that was meant to shift our perspective the way it did in Unbreakable and Split fails here because the intrigue it reveals is ultimately uninspiring…as is its ending.
I would still consider the Eastrail 177 trilogy to be a success for the most part. The worldbuilding and themes it visited are top-notch and the actors all brought great performances to the trilogy.
Its characters and treatment of the comic book genre are unmatched even in the face of other masterful undertakings like The Dark Knight and Black Panther. It’s just too bad that the finale wasn’t as great as everything that came before it.