There is no hiding now. There are superhumans among us. Nineteen years ago when Unbreakable was released, the possibility of costumed beings tearing apart Philadelphia and raking in oodles of cash at the box office was a near-impossibility. Comic book mainstream attention had died when the speculator market burst in the mid90s and their spandex subjects returned to the basements of obscurity.
The caped crusaders of this medium were so far relegated into the subculture that when M. Night Shyamalan wanted to give his spin on the art form, he felt compelled to define it with a lengthy opening title card.
“There are 35 pages and 124 illustrations in the average comic book. A single issue ranges in price from $1.00 to over $140,000. 172, 000 comics are sold in the U.S. every day. Over 62,780,000 each year. The average comic collector owns 3,312 comics and will spend approximately 1 year of his or her life reading them.”
I remember reading this text and thinking, “Wait, what now? Is this film going to be about comic books?” Shyamalan was doing his Sixth Sense thing all over again, playing with misdirection and expectation, excitedly waiting to pull the rug out from his audience with a plot-twisting revelation. No dead people to be seen this time, however. Instead, the next Spielberg was backdooring a Superman story inside a rather dreary, personal drama revolving around the depression of an unfulfilled life.
What a world an MCU can make.
Capes and cowls are the norms in 2019. We love them; we crave them, we spend half our time anticipating the next one. Marketers most likely would have approached Unbreakable in a different light today, the dirty little plot of superheroes moving front row and center. That film was a near-fatal bomb in 2000, but with Glass, we’re about to see if the world has caught up to Shyamalan’s passion for the four-color form. Well, we know it has, but do we see this medium in the same way? Or have we evolved beyond Shyamalan’s lecture on the material?
The conclusion of Split sent shockwaves through superhero cinema fandom. Shyamalan tricked us once again, revealing that James McAvoy’s tortured kidnapper was a genuine monstrosity worthy of a showdown against Bruce Willis’ unbreakable man. For the first time in this surprise franchise’s history, the filmmaker plays in a field clearly defined as the comic book arena. We are all Samuel L. Jackson’s fanboy cheering on the sidelines, “Let them fight.”
Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Glass.’
Early on in Glass, David Dunn (Willis) is arrested while in mid-brawl with The Horde a.k.a. Kevin Wendall Crumb (McAvoy). They are brought to a mental health facility that has recently fallen under the purview of psychologist Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). She believes that Dunn and Crumb are just the latest batch of troubled humans that think they are part of a slowly increasing higher evolution.
This belief in extraordinary abilities is a sickness of the brain and must be cured. Using strobe effects on Crumb and water torture on Dunn, Staple tells the two men that she can fix their disillusionment. An MRI scan with a well-positioned blur shadowing his brain almost convinces Dunn that he may be crazy.
Then there is Glass (Jackson), first name – Mister. He has been in this asylum ever since his offscreen arrest at the climax of Unbreakable. He’s practically catatonic, but it turns out that he’s been waiting for the right opportunity to bust out, and the reappearance of his old nemesis sparks his diabolical imagination. He breaks out of his cell at night, chats it up with The Horde’s nastiest persona known as The Beast, and the two/24 of them plot a final battle with Dunn.
While all of this is going on, Dunn’s son (Spencer Treat Clark) has been hitting the comic book stores for research. He comes across a particular back issue declaring a revelation regarding a villain’s parents and this sparks an idea. He hits the internet and discovers that Crumb’s father was killed in the catastrophic train accident that was orchestrated by Glass at the beginning of Unbreakable.
Dunn’s son races to the asylum only to encounter a classic comic book fight between Dunn and The Horde with Glass smiling in observance. The titans clash over and over and over again. The fight is halted when Glass is outed as the man responsible for the emergence of both David Dunn’s abilities as well as Kevin’s split personalities.
Rage erupts from within The Beast, and just as the conflict is about to reach its apex of bloodshed, an army of SWAT soldiers appear with guns blazing. We’re given a series of quick closeup shots of shamrock tattoos on their wrist, indicating a super-secret alliance. S.H.I.E.L.D. they are not.
As one of these soldiers drowns Dunn in a puddle of water no deeper than a few inches, Dr. Ellie Staple approaches and asks to shake his hand. Upon contact, Dunn’s mind flashes to the revelation that Staple is part of a secret organization determined to keep the existence of superbeings from the public consciousness. Everything she was attempting at the hospital was a ruse. Since Dunn failed to believe in her theories, he will now be executed along with The Horde and Glass.
Hey, this is a Shyamalan film, of course, there is more. While Dr. Staple and her secret organization think they have successfully surpassed another super-uprising, it is revealed that Glass had already recorded all of their preternatural outbursts at the hospital using her security system. He emailed this footage to his mother’s account, and she uploads it to the internet with the help of Casey Cook (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Dunn’s son. The three of them sit in the train station where Dunn first tested out his intuition abilities, and they watch as smartphone after smartphone pings with the information. The truth is out there. There are superhumans among us.
So, the idea is that there are potentially a lot of David Dunns walking around in the world. They’ve never had a Glass to test them, to push them to the limits of their abilities. As protectors of the status quo, The Shamrock Society like it that way. Their mission is now uprooted by Cook, Mrs. Glass, and Dunn’s son. Department stores are going to need to stock up on their cape and cowl merchandise.
I like the idea that we could all have a little superhero inside of us. As we’ve recently seen in films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we don’t have to wait to be selected for goodness. Right now, we already have the power to help those in need. Comic books and their movies are guides for heroism. We love how they make us feel. We should channel that energy into action.