M. Night Shyamalan’s sequel to Unbreakable and Split is in the works. Where is this unlikely return taking us?
The announcement of M. Night Shyamalan’s return to the Unbreakable universe went largely unnoticed. After all, Split was released long after Unbreakable, and though it was a critically acclaimed, we had our doubts that it would manage to bridge the generational gap between both films.
But here we are, and Shyamalan did it. Glass is coming to theaters next year, and it’s all looking very intriguing.
What we know
Glass is scheduled to premiere on January 18, 2019, almost 20 years since Unbreakable was released. But just because they waited 20 years doesn’t mean that they aren’t consistent when it comes to casting.
Both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson will be returning as David Dunn and Elijah Prince (A.K.A. Mr. Glass), respectively, along with James McAvoy, who will be reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb. They’ll be joined by the same actors who played Dunn’s son, Glass’ mother, and Casey (the only survivor of Crumb’s attack). Sarah Paulson will also be there in a still unknown role.
The synopsis that The Hollywood Reporter has shared seems to tie Unbreakable and Split together nicely:
Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Elijah Price, aka Mr. Glass (Jackson), emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.
The first poster for the film has been released, and depicts Dunn in handcuffs, Prince in a wheelchair, and Crumb in a prisoner’s outfit.
— M. Night Shyamalan (@MNightShyamalan) June 29, 2018
What we want
Back when Split was first released, we had our doubts about a third movie, but the potential was immediately clear by the end of the film.
The characters of both Unbreakable and Split are as closely tied together by their differences as they are by their similarities. The most dangerous of Crumb’s personalities, The Beast, is driven by the principle that the broken are superior to the whole — therefore he seeks to break his victims. Dunn, however, is impossible to break: a disturbing paradox for The Beast to encounter.
But just like The Beast seeks to break others, there are those who are constantly broken. Mr. Glass, as far as we know, continues to be locked up in an institution for the criminally insane, but likely hasn’t abandoned the idea that Dunn is his archenemy — the unbreakable hero to his osteogenesis imperfecta-ridden villain.
What does Glass have to do with Crumb? Would they form some kind of alliance? Glass is notoriously manipulative, and will probably see Crumb’s psychological weakness as a reflection of his own physical weakness — both in stark contrast to Dunn’s invincibility. And why is Dunn in handcuffs, if he’s pursuing Crumb?
This movie would be an excellent chance to discuss difficult concepts with a perfect mix of psychological thrills and comic book emotions. It could also be the long-awaited renaissance of Shyamalan movies, if it proves as strong as the first film was.
What we fear
Glass has the unique opportunity to start a rare conversation about ableism and the stigma that surrounds disabilities, especially in a day and age when film is developing its ability to tackle complicated issues and lending voices to a diversity of people.
Unfortunately, though, this franchise already doesn’t have a good history when it comes to speaking of mental and physical disabilities. Split, for all its scenes dedicated to showing the neglect of healthcare systems toward mentally ill patients, still ended up reducing Crumb’s dissociative identity disorder to a source of horror, and reducing the man himself to an unrealistically violent monster. Even Glass — which was arguably much more self-aware than Split — starred a disabled man as the villain.
For Glass to succeed where its predecessors failed, it has to do its research — not just scientific, but also socio-political. How does privilege play into the lives of each one of its characters? It has to find a way to incorporate fantasy into the real world in a way that isn’t reductive of real experiences. And it has to remember to not play up its “magic” so much that the film’s strength gets lost in CGI.
What made both Unbreakable and Split such good movies was their commitment to exploring deep emotional themes within a fantastical premise in a way that was decidedly not childish, and that never sacrificed their core (especially in the case of Unbreakable) for the sake of showmanship. To live up to the films that gave it so much potential, Glass will have to do even better than they ever did.