Consider the figures of legend and myth: do their shared traits include a strong sense of self-belief and a complete rejection of the naysayers around them?
Is such self-belief enough to inspire deeds that became, well, legendary and mythical?
Are comic books a modern extension of such lore?
Do they – like those ancient tales – serve as chronicles of such people whose astounding deeds were somehow witnessed and then documented, albeit in a stylised manner?
Scoffers may thumb their noses at such talk, but the setting in which these notions are put forward is the slightly askew universe of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and Split, after all.
Back in 2000 when Unbreakable came out, Shyamalan was reportedly discouraged from fully embracing the comic-book roots of his creation. (Ironically enough, by the company that is now the world’s biggest producer of superhero-themed fare.)
In today’s pop culture-saturated context, and given free rein to indulge his exploration of superheroes and their place in contemporary mythology, Shyamalan has turned in a highly ambitious piece of work.
Crafting a mere finale to the stories of Unbreakable’s superhuman vigilante David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Split’s superhuman serial killer Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) would not suffice for him – no, nothing as straightforward as that.
As orchestrated by the scheming, manipulative and super-intelligent Elijah “Mr Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson), their confrontation in this film – anticipated ever since David’s totally unexpected cameo at the end of Split – has to mean something to the whole human race.
And in the course of executing the grand plan of one of his most intriguing creations, Shyamalan makes a number of missteps among the bold strides that he takes.
A few of those, we learn later on, are wickedly intentional and exploit our own smugness at spotting apparent plot holes and miscalculations.
Some others, alas, live down to our second nature of picking things apart and harping on their flaws.
Though, given the nature of the somewhat “meta” late-game swerve that the filmmaker pulls on us (only to be expected, since it’s M. Night – the Chubby Checker of motion pictures), one has to wonder if he isn’t taking a dig at his own detractors.
So here’s the thing. In the course of hunting Kevin, David finds himself locked up with his quarry in the same mental institution that is currently holding good old Mr Glass.
The shrink in charge of all three, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), happens to specialise in treating a particular disorder: those whose delusions of grandeur lead them to think that they are super-beings.
If all this sounds a little too highly specialised, an explanation does emerge … eventually.
I was fine with Shyamalan’s action of taking the story beyond just the interaction of Glass’s three primary “enhanced individuals”.
The elevation of comic-book mythology and fandom to the level he takes them here may also be seen as metaphorical to his own struggles as a filmmaker, and to the efforts of genre fans (OK, we geeks and nerds) to have our particular obsessions understood by those around us.
What I wasn’t fine with is the way the entire middle section of the film is bogged down by Dr Staple’s futile efforts to convince people who are (to us) clearly gifted that they are delusional but ordinary.
Yes, it does seem justified in the context of those late reveals, but Shyamalan takes way too much of his own sweet time with it.
Also, David’s story arc here is supremely unsatisfying, with Willis largely reduced to squirming uncomfortably in his chair during that dad-blasted middle section. And don’t even get me started on that climactic scene.
It seems like such a waste, after Shyamalan has gone to the extent of even recasting Spencer Treat Clark from Unbreakable as David’s son, and setting up a nice little eye-in-the-sky symbiosis between the two of them (like the Punisher and Microchip, or Batman and Oracle, only more fatherly. And son-ly.)
It is left to McAvoy to continue entertaining us with his rapid-fire character shifts that made Split such a remarkable achievement; and Jackson, in a sedated state for more than half his screen time, to dazzle us with Mr Glass’ enthusiastic exposition as his master plan (oh come on, of course he has one) is executed.
Kudos to Paulson, too, for spouting some of Shyamalan’s more credibility-fraying dialogue with only the slightest hint that she is about to have a screaming fit. (Actually, she does. In time.)
So the big question is, does Glass serve as a worthy sequel to the highly underrated Unbreakable and the recently raved-about Split?
If you approach it in a generous mood and with managed expectations, then it could pass muster.
And oddly enough, in spite of The Village, The Happening and The Last Airbender, I am usually in a generous mood when it comes to Shyamalan’s films. Because … dammit, I want to believe too.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlayne Woodard