Thursday, July 9, 2015

Unbreakable (2000)

I'm not the world's biggest fan of superhero stories. I don't have anything against them - they were popular enough when I was a kid growing up. But I never got really deep into the comic book scene. To be honest, I think vigilante warriors fighting justice in spandex is a little bit goofy. But I like when superhero stories address serious issues. My favorite superhero has always been Batman, because his story is dark and gritty - he doesn't even technically have any superpowers. I also like the X-Men, because the idea of a new generation of mutants, each with distinct powers (instead of one lucky guy against a series of wacky villains), is fun to think about, plus their struggle for acceptance among the normies has socially significant corollaries in the real world, which is cool.

But, amid the current boom of superhero movies being pumped out of Hollywood, my favorites are movies like The Watchmen, and Kick-Ass, which aren't straight superhero movies, but somewhat meta, self-conscious looks at the superhero phenomenon. They examine humanity's desire for justice, and need for superheros, by cleverly exploring what it would be like if normal people took on the mantle of vigilante justice, and how that would play out. And that critical examination of human nature is more interesting to me than your average story about some dude zapped by gamma rays, who then has to juggle a social life (and romance) with saving the world from every megalomaniac-of-the-week he encounters.

Unbreakable is even more in that serious, meta-vein; it posits the question, what if the superheros in comic books were just an exaggeration of a rare phenomenon that occurs in real life? Enter middle-aged security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who, after miraculously surviving a fatal train crash with no injuries, begins to realize that he may not be so average after all. Though it takes some prompting from a lifelong comic book geek named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a rare disorder that renders his bones brittle as glass, and who has spent years looking for his mirror image on the opposite end of the spectrum - a man with super strength.

In spite of the science fiction influences, it's a very down to earth story (no spandex or flying here), and David Dunn's melancholic search for a purpose in life is something that even non-superheros can relate to. Coming in the wake of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is extremely clever, and sensitively filmed, proving that M. Night Shyamalan is a master director and storyteller, even if he did fall into a rut in the ensuing decade, and become too dependent on the shocking twist endings that his audience came to expect from him. But Unbreakable is as good as any of his movies, and a true cinematic masterpiece in my opinion, so if you haven't seen it, you should definitely give it a watch - whether you like superhero or comic book movies or not.


  1. This was unexpected amid your X-Files marathon. But I happened to rewatch this film a few weeks ago. It's a really great story with great performances. I do feel it drags a bit, and the tone is overly bleak. I prefer serious-toned movies over lighter ones but sometimes a film crosses the line to the point where it feels like a dreary rainstorm day, almost melodramatic in its straight-facedness.

    Still, a solid film, and easily one of M Night's best. There's a pretty strong campaign right now for them to finally make a sequel, after a well-known actor put forward his tantalizing plan for what a second and third film in the series would explore.

    Two other films in the meta/serious/realistic superhero film category you might want to check out are Super and Deffendor. Super is weird as hell but very rewarding, and possibly the most realistic superhero movie of all. Deffendor is really cool too. I'd also throw in Boy Wonder. Not actually a superhero movie, more of a vigilante film, but definitely plays with the superhero concept a bit.

  2. I saw recently that it was available on Netflix, and it's a movie I've been wanting to watch for years now. Then, Entertainment Weekly had a big feature on it last week, so I thought it was the perfect time to watch it.

    I could see how there would be some sequel potential, although I like Night's approach, according to the EW interview. He doesn't want to make a sequel just for the hell of it, which would feel artificial. This isn't a cheap popcorn flick, but an intelligent and artful film. So if there would be a sequel, it would need to come from the right place, and have something worthwhile to say.

    I also felt that the movie was pieced together expertly, particularly in light of the development of Samuel L. Jackson's character, from the start to the end. It's not easy to construct a story that expertly. I feel in some of Night's other movies, he went too far in terms of micromanaging the plot points (Signs and Lady in the Water, I'm looking at you), but in Unbreakable, I felt that it worked just perfectly. That would be a hard thing to repeat in a sequel, though.

    I'll have to look into those other movies you mentioned.