Welcome back to the Shyamalalanathon. If you missed it, check out my first M. Night review of The Sixth Sense, the movie that cemented M. Night Shyamalan‘s place in movie history and pop culture, here. Join me for the coming weeks as we prepare for the July 2nd release and July 5 review of the film adaptation of The Last Airbender.
Unbreakable is about a set of stories in two distinct time periods about two very different individuals: A security guard who may be impervious to injury and an art exhibitor who may be unable to avoid it. When these two meet, the world of Spiderman and Captain America may overlap with the real world of relationship drama. Which one of these movie types will triumph in this thrilling battle?
Bruce Willis reprises his role as The Big Money Star in the second installment of the Shyalathon. Once again, he comes from a troubled relationship- in this case, he has separated from his long-time partner and mother of his child-and they are now starting to come back together. Is this recurring theme a Bee Dub (BW) deal, or M. Night’s schtick? We meet Willis in an awkward scene where he’s hitting on a married woman on the train while claiming not to be doing so. His body language is rather nonexistent here so I can’t really tell if he’s honestly just a really creepy friendly guy, or if he’s just trying to bed her and claiming otherwise. Willis looks at something that apparently shocks him just after waking up from a nap and we cut to see that everybody from the train has died in a horrible accident. He is perfectly alright except that apparently the nerves that tell his face to express emotion were damaged. The doctor must have missed this though, because they tell him he’s untouched. Cut to a bunch of people staring shocked at how the doctor could have missed such a grievous injury.
From here, we get a montage of scenes in which Bruce Willis discovers that he’s never been sick in his life and, other than the loss of his emotional expression and an accident in college, he’s never been hurt, either. As this goes on, a completely unrelated story is being shown about an African American kid who apparently gets hurt a lot when he goes outside. The opening scene of the film was actually about this kid, though I did not know it at the time. Call me ignorant or racist, but when I see some really dark skinned people with a baby that is much, much lighter skinned than them, and then the movie cuts to a story about Bruce Willis not being hurt, I assume that the baby was actually Bruce Willis. It’s not, though, and on closer inspection I notice that the baby is, in fact, darker than Bruce Willis. The baby is actually- well, he’s this kid, whom we’ll find out the identity of soon enough.
We get some filler- or is it character development? So hard to tell when there’s nothing interesting going on- and then we cut to Samuel L. Motherfuckin’ Jackson. As Elijah Price, he is very enthusiastically selling a painting that was the original version of the comic book cover the kid in the other plot was looking at, until he discovers that it was being bought for a young child. He then turns into Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction, which makes this my favorite scene of the movie.
Wait a second. The most inspired, interesting and enjoyable scene in the movie is a scene whose primary strength is that it reminds us of a scene that it could have been?
That’s right. Unbreakable just fell victim to the age old rule of “don’t remind the audience of a better movie in the middle of your bad movie”. I would not necessarily call Unbreakable a bad movie, but it is already proving that it’s not a good one.
Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson meet for the first time in a scene that can’t help but disappoint fans of the two actors looking for a lot of gunshots. They do… talk about comics. They talk about how Samuel L. is actually the kid from the other story, and about how Bruce got hurt in college and played football before it. Jackson spends half the movie trying to convince Willis that he is actually a superhero, to no apparent benefit of Elijah, except that he has apparently become obsessed with comic books because of how much time he’s spent recovering from broken bones. Elijah explains that he’s closely watched the results of three local disasters with massive loss of life- each with over one hundred dead- looking for evidence of someone like him that survived unharmed (except for the brain damage). It’s all the more ludicrous when Jackson shows up at Willis’s job as a security officer and points out that Bruce Willis has Spider Sense. Yep, what “saw” on the train was just his Spider Sense tingling.
In the midst of all this, there are a few sub-plots going on. We get the occasional glimpse of the kid, who by now is obviously a young Samuel L., as he reacts to the world. Elijah falls down the stairs so that he can be placed into a wheel chair. Bruce Willis discovers that he almost drowned one time (seriously, he must have sustained some serious brain damage in that train wreck to have forgotten everything to have ever happened in his life!), and also that his son believes Elijah so much that he’s willing to shoot him to prove it won’t hurt him. There’s a good chunk of the movie going on here, and I could certainly summarize the plot if it was necessary, but it’s not. Certainly things happen, and if the goal of this review were so that you didn’t need to watch the movie, I’d tell them to you. What is pertinent, though, is that as everything happens, nothing happens.
Ever pick up a “Zero” Edition of a comic book, in which the established character has no powers, no enemies, and they show you, accidentally, just how shaky a premise the character is based on? The type of issue where the protagonist goes through their boring every day life, the type that nobody buys movies or comics to see, and it’s just incredibly… nothing? That’s Unbreakable. Even down to the ending, in which he finally becomes a costume-less, name-less superhero that continues not to portray any emotion.
After this point, of course, there is a big reveal – a Shyamalan Twist. It’s the type that you might have been able to figure out if you were analyzing the film long enough. Of course when he reveals it, Samuel L. seems to be trying to play it off as though the fact that the kid in the alternate plot was him is the twist. Whatever. The dialogue here is as realistic and boring as the rest of the film.
Unbreakable is a well-crafted piece of work. Except for the areas where it’s too dark to see what’s going on, it looks nice, on par with The Sixth Sense. The acting is… well, the script was specifically written for two big name actors. It’s what could be expected. Though I do wish that Bruce Willis’s invulnerability allowed him to avoid the accident that caused him to lose the ability to portray depth or emotion, rather than simply being a dialogue piece. And he wasn’t even unkillable. As Samuel L. Jackson said, “Water is your Kryptonite”. Really impressive, right?
But what really characterizes this film is its blandness. It is people going about their daily lives, with the added bonus of a creepy guy with an obsession that tells the main character things, and is believed. It’s everything that makes a super hero film, without the action or the drama. But I wonder…
I throw the pointless DVD on the floor. Nothing happens. I stomp it, pick it up, and squeeze it. It bends, slightly, but as soon as pressure is eased it resorts to normal shape. There’s not a crack, scratch or scuff. Amazed, I hurl it at a window. It hits the window, shattering the glass, and flies out before plummeting toward the street. I’m already on the stairs, sprinting down. This has to do it. It would be illogical otherwise.
But when I get outside, illogic has reared its ugly head. The DVD lies there, in the middle of the street. There are no cars, so I walk out into the street, and stare incredulously. I pick it up.
Unbreakable was not the title of the movie; nor was it a reference to the main character. No, Unbreakable is about a DVD that does not break.