Procrastrospection: Unbreakable

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for me to once again pretend that I’m someone capable of putting together reviews of things. First, a little refresher about what exactly this is, or, for those who discovered me over the last week, it’s a quick hit explanation.

Basically, for a long time, I’ve wanted to believe that I was a capable reviewer. The problem with that is that I kept putting off doing any actual reviews. I could have started any time, especially with the internet being pretty much a vessel for just about anyone to get an opportunity to share their thoughts with a broad audience (and that was even true back in the days of MySpace, you just had to fight through all of the glitter). So, when I started up Rhetoric for Breakfast, I decided it was time to stop procrastinating, and start with the retrospection. Hence, Procrastrospection was born. I make a specific point of not reviewing anything that’s relatively new, so that people don’t get upset about spoilers, because, honestly, the statute of limitations has expired on most of them.

Besides, if you want to see my blog where I DO spoil things for people that haven’t seen it yet, visit The Walking Dumb, and chime in on that conversation. And so, without further ado, here’s this week’s Procrastrospection.

Unbreakable (2000)

When this film premiered, people were still very high on the talents of M. Night Shyamalan. After all, he’d put out a fairly impressive little piece called The Sixth Sense that you may have heard of. UnbreakableĀ didn’t disappoint, as Shyamalamadingdong was able to craft a well-constructed superhero origin story.

After having worked with ShyamWow on The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis was cast into the role of David Dunn, a former football player who’s meandering through life, holding down a security job. After surviving a fatal train crash without a scratch, Dunn is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson, with hair that looks like he just slept on his Pulp Fiction afro in the wrong way). Price, who is so fragile that he’s earned the nickname “Mr. Glass”, believes that David is the polar opposite, and that David might just be (title drop) unbreakable. Eventual testing leads David to discovering that he just might be a real-life superhero, complete with bullet-proof skin, extraordinary strength, and a desire to dress in spandex with his underwear on the outside (okay, that last part might be a little made up).

The film not only presents us an origin story for a superhero that’s grounded in a lot of reality while playing with comic book lore, but also presents us the beginnings of said hero’s nemesis. Those with a familiarity with the structure of comic books will spot the story arc that’s being presented. Even without that understanding, the film works, as everything that’s presented in the story has enough of a basis in the reality of the film world that nothing comes completely out of the blue. The performances of Willis and Jackson really help ground the film, and it’s easy to see how a friendship would form between these two men, who are trying to come at the same answers from different ways.

Ultimately, one thing that Unbreakable is able to do is to prove that a good superhero story doesn’t have to be a world-spanning epic, dealing with threats that can’t possibly be stopped by your average authorities. Instead, it presents a world where, yes, one man is truly super, thanks to gifts (as long as he avoids his key weakness, because a completely invincible hero is boring), but what makes him a hero is his willingness to step up and try to fix the injustice he sees. It isn’t a stretch to see Dunn as being an analog in many ways for the Big Blue Boy Scout, but in a way that grounds the character in a lot of self-doubt and even fear over his own abilities until things come to a head.

At the end of the day, Unbreakable stands as a superhero film that is less about the super and more about the hero. It presents characters dealing with the reality of the changes in their life, and all of the pitfalls contained there-in. And it sets up a world where, so long as someone stands against evil, something can be done about it.

In other words, it does a much better job of telling a superhero story than Green Lantern did.

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