M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass: An Antidote to Superhero Fatigue

This past weekend’s Comic-Con in San Diego saw the first footage of M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up to both 2016’s Split & 2000’s Unbreakable. Glass will in released January 2019 yet the trailer released has stoked interest in one of the most unlikely trilogies ever released.

Hot off the heals of the hugely successful The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan released his follow-up feature in 2000, Unbreakable, a deconstructive superhero that came around long before superhero movies ever really needed to be deconstructed.  It’s easy to forget in the modern world of endless sequels, prequels and sidequels,  there was a time when superhero movies were not the studio tent poles they are today.  Unbreakable came at a time when the only widely successful superhero movies to that point had been Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Tim Burton’s Batman.  However, Unbreakable was released three years after Joel Schumacher killed the genre with the irritating Batman & Robin, and the same year as Bryan Singer’s X-Men; which would go on to kick-start the superhero renaissance. One that would only really come to life with Sam Raimi’s Spiderman and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins released in the year subsequent.

Unbreakable didn’t ride off the back of any superhero goodwill that has been built up in recent years. While it fared well critically, commercially the movie faltered, and plans for a sequel were shelved indefinitely.  It’s easy to see in the current climate of superhero movies that deconstructing the superhero story is popular. One need only look at WatchmenKick-AssDeadpool and Logan to see this at play. This makes Shyamalan’s venture into that realm almost a decade prior even more impressive in hindsight.

Whereas many modern deconstructive superhero movies poke fun at their creative cycles, where an emphasis on sequels and monetary gain is paramount, Unbreakable deconstructed the only superhero movies that came before it, Superman and Batman, and so the monomyth of the strongman superhero became the topic for dissection in Unbreakable, which tackled it in a gritty real-world setting.  Unbreakable, masked as a train crash thriller, emerged as a superhero origin story for Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, as well as a villain origin story for Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass.


Fast forward to 2016, through a career dive and renaissance for director M. Night Shyamalan, and the low-budget horror thriller Split was released.  With Split, Shyamalan pulled off perhaps his greatest twist since The Sixth Sense.  After the Beast is released we see Crumb’s various personalities discuss how the newly released superhuman persona inside of them will protect them from the rest of the world. It’s during this speech that the growing sound of James Newton Howard’s score from Unbreakable begins to swell in the background. We, as the audience, know that these two movie universes, previously believed to be unconnected, are in fact one and the same, all before the reveal of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn watching from a diner.

Shyamalan did a great job of hiding the fact that the two movies are connected.  However, for those observant, there were clues; the most obvious of which being the poster for Split which shared the shattered glass motif from Unbreakable’s poster back in 2000.  There’s also the fact that Crumb’s Beast alter-ego is born inside of a train, the same place where David Dunn realised his own great power buried deep within.  On a side-note, Crumb’s character also leaves flowers on the train platform before transforming, could this mean that Crumb is somehow connected to the crash in Unbreakable?

Returning to the motif of the shattered glass, 2019 will see this most-unlikely of trilogies concluded with Glass.  All the major characters from both Split and Unbreakable will be returning in a movie that will no doubt see Jackson’s Mr Glass elevated to the titular figure in his namesake movie.  The official synopsis for the movie states that Elijah knows secrets of both Dunn and Crumb, so it’ll be interesting to see how Shyamalan weaves all these different treads together in a movie that serves as sequel to two uniquely separate movies in their own right.

With the current slate of superhero movies positioned somewhat comfortably as the go-to movies for movie studios in need of financial rewards, this has the reverse effect of diminishing the quality of said movies for audiences, as studios pump out superhero movies at an alarming rate.  The public will no doubt tire of the formulaic structure soon, unless the movies are kept fresh and relevant.  As Marvel Studios continue to knock out hit after hit, with little sign of slowing down, and other movie studios build superhero franchises, a movie like Glass will hopefully highlight that something unique and unproven can be exactly the kind of medicine this genre needs to survive long into the future, lest it go the way of the Western.

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