Published at: Nov. 22, 2000, 12:50 a.m. CST by headgeek
The beginning of UNBREAKABLE starts off with simple letters upon a simple screen. Stating a few uncommon statistics about fans of comic books. They talk about the ‘average’ comic collector. And how the ‘average’ collector ends up with pretty close to 4000 issues and spends about one year of their total life reading said comics.
Well, I am not average. In my house I have roughly 70,000 comic books spanning all of the ‘ages’ of the illustrated story. I have illuminated pages from the 13th and 15th centuries from Portugal… A Tibetan ‘tonka’ illustrating some of the Hindi gods. I also have some Japanese woodblocks of samurai warriors from the mid-1800’s. The Huacho Indians’ yarn painting illustrating a religious quest from pre-World War II, coming from the western sierra madres…. I also have some Mayan glyphs from Palenque illustrating their stories of heroes and gods…. And it even has a word balloon coming out with glyphs saying the dialogue… I collect original comic art and am very very in to the history of illustrated story telling…
Comic books for me have been about the mythology of mankind. Today’s youth doesn’t spend too terrible much of time reading the stories of Jesus Christ in the United States… but many of us can quote chapter and verse according to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko on the Marvel side… and then we have the Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bob Kane, etc on the DC side… There were the independents like Eisner and his SPIRIT... And then we have the underground creators like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Dennis Kitchen and Spain… On up to the modern age comic prophets like Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and so on…
In the world of film, we’ve seen attempted adaptations all come close, but not quite all the way. In the Donner SUPERMAN, we have a brilliant origin sequence, but the film decided to take a bizarre camp tone for the second half. Burton’s BATMAN decided to take our heroes and turn them into bizarre circus freaks…. Shirking real motivations and playing it all in a grand cartoon of reality. Not exactly bad… not exactly great. There were all the others… each succeeding and failing in their own small ways… How can you doubt the heroics and joys of the Rocketeer’s first flight to save his aerial clown friend? But still… it felt like the old chapter plays. Going from sequence to sequence.
Then we had X-MEN this year… hell, it came out on DVD today, and I love that film. It is the closest literal translation from Comic to Film I’ve seen in live action. In the world of animation, we’ve had the brilliance from Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett for years… and those are literally the comics come to life.
You know how in comics, it is usually that wild bold new take that just captures you. Like when Frank Miller brought us the Dark Knight? Or when Spider-Man lost Gwen Stacy in ASM#121…. Or like the anti-drug issues by Neal Adams of GREEN LANTERN that came out the year I was born? When Gaiman introduced us to Death? When I was in High School and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons brought me THE WATCHMEN.
These were my mythologies. The stories and legends and tales with which me and my friends communicated. We never believed SPIDER-MAN was out there, but we love to pretend don’t we?
Well, tonight when I went to the Metropolitan Theater here in Austin… sat in my perfectly center seat I adore… and sat back awaiting disappointment from M Night Shyamalan… having avoided all knowledge of the film… Having been handed the script and PUTTING IT AWAY… being sent reviews filled with spoilers and forwarding them to Moriarty unread. When I heard that M Night was going to tackle an original Superhero Concept for a film… I had a dream of what I would see.
UNBREAKABLE isn’t a tights and spandex universe… It isn’t the story of gigantic robots or ray guns… There is no flying… no superb special effects… Kinda like how BATMAN YEAR ONE was told. No costumes or supervillains… just the real world equivalent.
As of this moment, UNBREAKABLE, upon first viewing, is my favorite film of the year. I still think REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is the best movie I’ve seen this year, but UNBREAKABLE is my favorite. Dear lord this was a perfect issue number one Superhero film.
NOW… we have seen some controversy over the ending of the movie. And to really do the film justice and defend it against its detractors… I will have to get into that… But quite simply… I feel these people to be on some sort of illegal substance. This movie ends in the only perfect way it could end for me. Not one shed of doubt… the ending was perfect… and after talking briefly with about 20 people after the film… they all agreed. From Quint to Robogeek to regular folks to well… others. One wanted it to be flashier at the end, but with the same outcome. I love the understated reality to it all.
And this is where you have to leave. The film opens today across the country. GO SEE IT. See it and come back, disagree if you must, but see it and at least form your own opinion before coming back, because after a countdown from 10… I will begin discussing IN DEPTH… my feelings about the film and its conclusion. Don’t skip down to talk back… don’t read down a bit. LEAVE, SEE THE FILM and THEN come back.
SPOILER PART OF THE REVIEW COMMENCES…
As I stated above this is that perfect issue number one comic book. Like… BATMAN 1, Spring 1940… Batman had been around for a year, but in issue number one of his first dedicated title… Bill Finger and Bob Kane introduced us to THE JOKER. Lex Luthor didn’t arrive for SUPERMAN for nearly 3 years. And the origin of their childhood meeting and parting of ways would not be told for decades yet to come…
But in the creation of a great Superhero mythology… you must introduce not only the hero but the villain. The more traumatic the better. The more close relationships they have with one another the better… just so long as it doesn’t get hammy. And often times either the villain is responsible for the initial event that creates the hero… or vice versa.
In UNBREAKABLE we have a brilliant origin of a hero and a villain. And since you have ALREADY SEEN THE FILM… I can talk about this with no trepidations.
Samuel L Jackson plays the most brilliant supervillain character in the history of cinema. I’m talking James Bond, Indiana Jones, Batman, Superman, Rocketeer, X-Men… everything.
In this world that M Night has created, the universe is very very tight. The world is, as it is outside your and mine’s windows. We go to work, see movies, buy comic books, toys… etc. There are no gigantic gaudy cartoon edifices in which our heroes and villains lay in waiting.
The villains in the world deal drugs, rape unconscious drunk women, and carry unlawful weapons… there are harsher villains to be sure… but these are the common scum and villainy we see in our world.
Now imagine… You are The Joker or Lex Luthor or Professor Moriarty. You are an evil super genius of means. You have become this because, it is what you feel you must be. Life twisted you somehow. Cursed you just so. And you discover that mass destruction and evil are easy to accomplish. The authorities easy to cheat and fool. That the wheels of justice simply can not catch up to you. You read the stories that inspired you to become said super evil genius… and you realize… the game is no fun with out your arch enemy… the Superhero.
If you exist… then surely there is someone out there capable of being your Batman or Superman or Sherlock Holmes. The yang to your yin.
And wonderfully, you set about to search for your hero. Your adversary. Samuel L Jackson’s Elijah Price is just such a character. Cruelly twisted by the fate of the world… for the bemusement of his fellow man. Mr Glass they call him, cause he breaks like glass. Unable to play like other children… forced to develop his mind. Punished for every step he’s taken, having to fear stairwells and uneven surfaces.
His escape… his vindication, to become bigger than life. A villain on a grand scale. The type of villain that can not be caught by mild mannered enforcement.
He creates a series of incidences out of which he is hoping to find his adversary. And one day it happens. He painfully needs this… Like Hannibal Lecter needed to be caught so the world would know his genius and fear him all the more.
But Heroes are far harder to create than Super Villains. Great evil is needed in order for great heroes to be born. Before UNBREAKABLE was the new long trailer for PEARL HARBOR… and in a very real way, for the United States to become what it was in World War II, it needed PEARL HARBOR.. it needed Hitler and Hirohito. And without them, would the U.S. of become the superpower it is today?
Without the COLD WAR would we have launched into space? Would we have created the Internet and the super technology we now oh so enjoy?
Heroes and Villains. They need one another. This is a cycle… one of those circle of life sort of things. And what is wonderful, what I absolutely adore about the film is that Sam Jackson's character knows his place in the scheme of things. How this cripple, this evil intellect.... he was meant to find a hero, and out of all his insane criminal monstrosities... he makes a man realize who and what he is. And in so doing, damages and hurts the very psyche of that would be hero. It is twisted and insane... but Elijah Price believes he is doing the world a favor in discovering this invincible... unbreakable hero... and bringing him out of his shell. It validates his sad sorry existence.
And Sam Jackson and Bruce Willis, well, they are gods. our super-powered beings in this film. Small ones. Their powers not the greatest… but the scales, that which hangs in their midst… Every bit the Joker/Batman variety… the Captain America/Red Skull (minus the cosmic cube) variety.
I was breathless for much of this film… spontaneously clapping and squealing at moments… like: When Willis pushes the paper to his kid… or when the music rose as Bruce is climbing out of the pool… or when ‘Mr Glass’ is pursuing Gun In Belt Dude down the stairs.
This THANKSGIVING Holiday I will be in Los Angeles attending as a guest at LOS CON
And oh how I would love to discuss this film with a room full of comic book, science fiction and movie fans. But one thing is for sure… I doubt seriously anyone could get me to shut up about this film. I LOVE IT.
I love the cinematography, the editing, the score, the performances, the story, the design and just the very nature of this film. This isn’t about WHAM or POW or a physical manifestation of powers… this is…Remember TIME AFTER TIME? Remember the scene where David Warner has let go of Mary Steenburgen.. and has climbed into the Time Machine… and Herbert has come up next to the door of the machine, put his finger on the crystal key thing, and Warner and he exchange that look where the moment of truth lay… This movie’s ending felt like that.
And damn if I don’t want to see BREAKABLE, which is what I’d call the sequel… and would focus upon Jackson after his inevitable escape from the Home for the Criminally Insane. Oh yes, I know he made preparations… Mr Glass knows he breaks, knew when he shook that hand he would be going to the insane asylum. He knows Willis’ family, where he lives… he knows his weakness with water… Ol Mr Glass has got Willis’ number, and has some underground lair somewhere that his mother has prepared for him.
I pray we get to see a sequel. If not, then for the rest of my life at weird different periods with different folks, I’ll spontaneously leap into a long lasting dialogue about … what next… And that's great. I love that. I love beginnings to longer stories... I like it when the film ends without the villain falling from a skyscraper, or raving like a loon in prison. I love being able to conjur the further adventures. Discussing the what ifs with film fans, and this movie has that in spades.
M Night has crafted a film about a mild mannered, in every way, working class schmoe, who discovers that there is quite a bit more to the way the world turns. He takes this day job fella, and gives him a reason to feel special... the dream to go out and make a difference. And that is why I will be seeing this movie again tomorrow night. Of this, I have no doubt.