Shyamalan 2: Unbreakable (2000)

or, which is the lesser of the two evils of Chris Claremont and John Byrne?

 

samuel-jackson-unbreakable
One day Samuel L. Jackson, you will get to appear in Avengers movies as good as these comics are.  And that’s a Bob Harras era Avengers comic on display, so there.

I can’t imagine what it’s like being a comics fan in 2017.  I know that back in 2000 it was pretty brutal.  You were openly mocked for reading those crappy, over-priced bits of stapled newspaper in public.  No one gave shit about the fact that we were finally going to find out who ‘The Twelve’ were in Uncanny X-Men.  In retrospect, they were probably correct in doing so, but I was fifteen and I didn’t know much better.  (So much of my life can be explained knowing that I fell in love with comics at that time, rather than, y’know, actual human beings.)  But those years, of avidly buying each Thursday a small stack of some of the worst Marvel comics ever produced, is a memory of such power and nostalgia.  It’s such a potent memory that thousands of adults spend thousands of pounds desperately trying to recapture it each week.

In those fallow days, long before the endless stream of mindless Marvel movies, superheroes were far from the mainstream.  We were only just entering the modern age of superhero movies – X-Men had been a hit, but to most people that film was a cheap Matrix knock-off.  So, Shyamalan’s choice to make a superhero movie is… odd.  Especially given that the only idea he seems to have taken from comics is a turgid sense of self-importance, rather than an interesting visual cataclysm.

In one scene, Samuel L. Jackson (… sigh, swallow vomit… or ‘Mr. Glass’) visits a comic book shop, appropriately located in the crappiest part of town, to find inspiration (or something.  I’m not really sure).  Unbreakable is so boring, but that’s not surprising given the source material that is on display in the shop.  Here’s what Shyamalan/Mr. Glass would have learned on their research trips:

  • The shop only seems to stock Marvel comics (or Fathom – If there’s ever a greater proof of the need for feminism, it’s a Michael Turner drawing). Reading Marvel comics won’t seem like the worst idea in the world, given that in a year or so, Marvel will give the tiniest hint of being radical.  Grant Morrison will write X-Men for heaven’s sake.  He’ll call the book New X-Men even though the whole point of his run is that nothing new happens in the X-Men ever!  It’s chuffing genius!  Mark Millar will also write a pervy book about a sexually active teenage Aunt May (Oh god, oh god).
  • Books that should be bagged and boarded = Spider-Man Unlimited. Books that shouldn’t be = Namor and Foolkiller.  The Spider-Man books on display come from a time when Peter Parker had recently lost a baby.  How, why, was there any consequence ever?  This never was, and never is mentioned.  What happened to the baby?  WHAT HAPPENED!
  • Once you’ve had the perpetually adolescent Kevin Smith relaunch Daredevil with his wearisome, over-written, sanctimonious bullshit that took ages to publish, you should get David Mack to write the next run. He will instead create wearisome, over-written and culturally-appropriating bullshit that took ages to publish.  (Fifteen-year-old me will lap this up and produce an entire GCSE art project based on issues 9 and 10 of that comic).
  • If you make The Punisher an angel who kills a lot of people rather than a man who kills a lot of people, you won’t have to write about the blandest of moral quandaries.
  • John Byrne is the person you should absolutely employ to relaunch Spider-Man because he will have great ideas such as marital trouble and supervillain involvement in a hero’s creation. Jeez, that’s it.  Shyamalan read John Byrne and thought this is where it’s at!  This is what quality writing looks like.  It explains everything.

Shyamalan learnt all the worst lessons from John Byrne comics.  They rely on exploiting the blandest of moral dilemmas (‘If I fight this murderous supervillain I won’t be home in time for tea’) at the expense of genuine action and adventure.  They’re reactionary and conservative (with both small and big ‘c’s’).  Shyamalan should have ripped up the material in front of him and gone and read some old Chris Claremont X-Men comics.  At least they’re kinky.  Would have at least led to a more interesting use of Bruce Willis’ need to touch people to use his powers.

The film momentarily comes to life though moments of some interesting camera staging, such as the opening scene on a commuter train, but for the most part, this is the most vapid of films.  It seems like Shyamalan had half an idea and gave up, given the most inconsequential moment of heroism on display and the rushed denouncement of Mr. Glass’ villainy (the majority of which is achieved through on-screen captions).  What this film really needs is a sequel to develop and deepen the ideas…

 

Shyamalan rankings:

 

  1. The Sixth Sense
  2. …one, two, miss a few…
  3. Unbreakable

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