Sometimes the best way to make a great genre story is to be sneaky. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN wasn’t sold as horror, but it is terrifying. FIGHT CLUB is satire disguised as a thriller. Even CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is a surprisingly good drama disguised as a superhero movie.
M. Night Shyamalan had to fly under the radar with his movie UNBREAKABLE in 2000. It was a superhero movie disguised as a low-key thriller — and the film earned a huge following. Now GLASS, opening January 18, finishes the story started almost 20 years ago. That’s pretty unusual in and of itself, but GLASS is a unique superhero movie for even more reasons.
Who Says Comic Book Movies Don’t Work?
When UNBREAKABLE hit theaters in 2000, the market was not dominated by comic book movies. BATMAN was big in 1989, but that series fizzled out less than a decade later and Batman was dormant until Christopher Nolan got his hands on the character. X-MEN had opened a few months before UNBREAKABLE. It was successful, but the MCU and DCEU were still years away.
So M. Night Shyamalan’s story about Bruce Willis’s character David Dunn, a man who can’t be hurt, wasn’t presented like a comic book movie. The director recently talked about how weird that was, while speaking to Joe:
Being totally honest. At that time, Disney felt that we couldn’t sell it as a comic-book movie because they felt that nobody would come to a comic book film. They felt that this is not a subject matter that you would get a wide audience for. [Comic book films are] for weird people at conventions and things like that. After the success of The Sixth Sense, they wanted to just sell [Unbreakable] as a thriller.
Comic Books Are Real
Most superhero movies don’t make actual comics part of their story. (There are exceptions, like LOGAN.) But UNBREAKABLE was all about the ways comics represent the world — and how they set up a desire for epic conflict in the troubled Mr. Glass. As Glass, Samuel L. Jackson helped create one of the great comic book villains, and he’s so terrific in part because of his obsession with comics.
And now he gets his own movie. SPLIT didn’t quite continue the story from UNBREAKABLE, but it does take place in the same city. Now GLASS picks up the thread of both films. That’s also pretty unusual — this isn’t just a sequel to one film. GLASS does double-duty as a sequel to two very different stories, merging both into one. We can’t think of many examples of that happening before.
Finally, there’s the style of the film itself. UNBREAKABLE was quiet and measured. SPLIT was much more frantic and energetic. GLASS is likely to be somewhere in between, especially at some point the characters — David Dunn (Bruce Willis), Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and Mr. Glass — will all be institutionalized together under the observation of a doctor played by Sarah Paulson (above). That’s not the sort of location we see for a superhero tale.
Typically, this sort of story features characters clashing because they’re trying to put big plans in motion. Mr. Glass’s plan is literally to see if superheroes actually exist, and if so, to be a supervillain himself. It’s a dark, personal, maybe even strange story — and a totally unique take on the genre.
GLASS opens on January 18.