M. Night Shyamalan has become known for pulling the rug out from under his audience with a shock twist at the end of his films. Most notably, in The Sixth Sense where the big reveal completely changes the way you see the rest of the film, and there’s no doubt that Shyamalan’s newest film Old which is due for release in late July will continue this trend. Subverting our expectations and challenging what we anticipate to come next has always been a staple of the Shyamalan film and his Unbreakable trilogy (officially called the ‘Eastrail 177 Trilogy’), made up of Unbreakable, Split and Glass is no exception. Not only did the ending of Split come as a complete shock when it was revealed to be a secret sequel to Unbreakable but the whole trilogy has really challenged and subverted our expectations of the superhero film, a genre that’s currently churning out films like there’s no tomorrow.
The Unbreakable trilogy is a really fascinating trilogy to look at, not least because it’s a story that took almost 20 years to tell but because of how much the superhero film has changed during that time. Unbreakable came out towards the end of the year 2000, only a few months after X-Men but at this point, superhero films were absolutely not the box office powerhouses they are today. Unbreakable grossed just shy of $250 million which isn’t a bad amount, but it’s got nothing on the billion-dollar grosses that many of today’s superhero films are reaching.
But Unbreakable was not your traditional superhero film, it’s not based on any comic books and it’s much more character driven. There are no big action scenes or CGI fights, but the film was still a success and has gained quite a following since its release. At the time it seemed like it was just a standalone film and not the start of a franchise, though both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson were pushing for a sequel to be made. However, Shyamalan wasn’t too sure.
Lo and behold in January 2017, a time when superhero films were all the rage, an Unbreakable sequel- Split– was finally released. Except, it wasn’t really a sequel. If you’d left the cinema 5 minutes before the end you wouldn’t know the two films were connected. In fact, even if you had stayed until the end, but you’d never seen Unbreakable you’d just think the film had a cool, if not slightly random, Bruce Willis cameo at the end. Split was an excellent horror film and James McAvoy does an extraordinary job of playing all of Kevin’s different personalities but it’s the final scene that really ties Split into this trilogy.
When that recognisable music from Unbreakable starts up and we see Willis’ David Dunn sat in a diner, everything starts to come together. The character of Kevin was originally meant to feature in Unbreakable but he didn’t quite fit in and so some scenes written for Unbreakable were later used in Split. In fact, many fans believe that a young child spotted in a brief scene in Unbreakable is in fact a young version of Kevin although there isn’t really any evidence to support this theory. The trilogy was really starting to form now as all three characters, David, Elijah and Kevin have had the origin stories and the time had come to bring them all together in Glass.
2 years later, in 2019, the same year as Avengers: Endgame and Joker, Glass was released. It was met with largely negative reviews, sitting at a disappointing 36% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatoemeter. However, the film does have 67% Audience Score and many fans did quite like it. Glass provided a really refreshing break from the typical superhero film. In true Shyamalan fashion, Glass didn’t go down the tradition typical superhero route and it sticks to what Unbreakable did in stripping everything back and not making it a big, loud, flashy, modern superhero film.
For instance, throughout the film there are hints at a big final fight taking place at the top of the newly erected skyscraper and hints that Elijah would destroy a chemical lab, killing thousands of people. But that’s not what happens in the film’s final act. Perhaps it would have done if this was a Marvel or DC film but Shyamalan’s changes things around and turns the genre on its head. Instead of this big final showdown at the top of a skyscraper, he goes down the route of a much more character-based fight on the front lawn outside the mental facility where most of the film has taken place.
It’s this sort of thing that makes Glass such a refreshing superhero film to watch and a really entertaining and engaging film. Not only does Shyamalan subvert our expectations as we’ve come to expect from him with multiple plot twists towards the end of the film, but he also rounds off all of the main characters so well. Superhero films often struggle with character conclusion with meaningful deaths being reversed a couple of films later and whilst Endgame did an excellent job with its ending, so did Glass. Over the course of 20 years and 3 films, the Eastrail 177 trilogy created complex, layered characters and Glass really delivered in concluded all of their stories remarkably.
The 3 films Unbreakable, Split and Glass managed to set up 3 excellent main characters, giving them just the right amount of screen time before bringing them together for a conclusion that was meaningful and exciting whilst also providing a refreshing break from all the other superhero smackdowns we’ve been getting in recent years. M. Night Shyamalan is the master of plot twists and subverting our expectations and he’s managed to go against the grain of the superhero genre by creating his excellent, character driven Eastrail 177 trilogy.