It’s been a minute since director M. Night Shyamalan brought us into his own unique version of the superhero genre via 2016’s Split, which managed to surprise viewers when it was revealed late in the third act that it was actually a sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. With Glass, the third (and likely last) film in the series hitting theaters on Friday, it might be good to refresh our memories on the characters at the heart of Unbreakable and Glass — Elijah Price (played by Jackson), David Dunn (played by Willis), and Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy) — and especially revisit the question of whether or not the characters in Glass have actual superpowers.
But first, before we can do any breakdown around actual superpowers, we need to do a little plot refresh because this franchise is nearly 20 years old and there’s a lot to remember about the first two installments. In Unbreakable, we’re first introduced to Elijah, who is born with a rare genetic disorder that renders his bones as fragile as glass. Working as a comic book dealer, Elijah becomes convinced that if he is, ostensibly, the most fragile man to ever live, there must be someone who is the complete opposite of him, someone who possesses incredible strength. Elijah believes that person is David, a man who has never been injured or sick a day in his life, who has visions that show him crimes committed by any given person he touches. The two quickly fall into the archetypal villain and hero roles, respectively, as Elijah engineers scenarios (unbeknownst to David) where David can put his alleged powers to good use.
In Split, we’re introduced to the multiple (and sometimes menacing) personalities of zookeeper Kevin Wendell Crumb (played by James McAvoy), who is being treated for dissociative identity disorder (DID). While under the control of a handful of his more sinister alternate identities, known as the Horde, Kevin kidnaps three teenage girls (played by Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson, and Anya Taylor-Joy). One of the girls, Casey (Taylor-Joy), quickly figures out that the three of them are part of a more sinister plot wherein some of Kevin’s alternate identities are preparing for the arrival of a new personality, “The Beast,” who would take over Kevin’s body and turn him into a flesh-eating monster.
Sounds pretty intense, huh? With all of this in your mind, let’s break down whether Unbreakable, Split, and Glass actually believe (and in turn, want us to believe) that Elijah, David and Kevin have actual superpowers.
Elijah Price, a.k.a. “Mr. Glass”
In both Unbreakable and Glass, we could argue that Elijah’s superpower is being an effective criminal mastermind with an incredibly high, genius-level intelligence. In a way, it’s his disease that acts as the inciting incident, the push that gets him into the place he needs to be to assume his criminal identity as Mr. Glass. While Elijah can’t exactly use his extremely fragile bones for any kind of criminal activity (unlike David, who can touch people and see if they’ve committed a crime), it certainly creates a good excuse for him to go around prodding David into becoming the hero to his villainous mastermind.
In the Glass trailer we see that once Elijah is weaned off the medication keeping him heavily sedated, he realizes what kind of possibilities could arise from plotting to get Kevin to reveal The Beast and breaking them both out of the psychiatric facility where they’re being held.
All things considered, Elijah’s superpowers aren’t what you’d immediately think of when it comes to a villain in a comic book. He’s not a scientist. He doesn’t have advanced tech or a squad of goons. It’s really his elevated intelligence that helps serves his criminal plans, and the fact that he is a genius in multiple areas of intelligence: strategy, manipulation, psychology. Combine the fact that he has come to understand his condition and the world he lives in through a comic book lens, aligning himself with another villain and working to defeat a man he believes is his exact foil, and it seems that whether or not Elijah has any superpowers is entirely beside the point. He’s brilliant enough and motivated enough to be a villain capable of as much destruction as a comic book supervillain. Honing and controlling the abilities of other villains like The Beast, and manipulating heroes like David make Elijah a pretty twisted Professor X, in a sense.
David Dunn, a.k.a. “The Overseer”
For all intents and purposes, within the confines of Shyamalan’s universe, it would be fair to say David has superpowers. While there are never any specific declarations that David is a superhero or has superpowers in Unbreakable, he certainly grows into the idea fairly quickly after Elijah plants the seed of possibility in his head by questioning certain events in his life (like a life-threatening car crash that he emerged from with no injuries when he was a teenager) and David begins testing his abilities at home and at work.
So sure, David never says anything like “My Spidey-sense is tingling,” but Shyamalan makes it clear that David is certainly not like other guys–or humans, for that matter. At various moments in Unbreakable, we see him test his strength, lifting impossible amounts of weight, and we have undeniably clear moments when we see that as David touches someone or brushes past them in a crowd, he gets visions of their behavior which alerts him as to whether or not they’re a criminal he needs to subdue. David is the hero that will stand in opposition to Mr. Glass and The Beast and, unlike the other two, is the only one to not give himself his own codename (that we know of, at least).
Kevin Wendell Crumb, a.k.a. “The Horde” and “The Beast”
While Split’s conflation of mental illness as superpower is problematic, there is no confusion that Kevin’s abilities as The Beast enter into superpower territory (as do James McAvoy’s acting abilities, but that’s another story). While Kevin’s other personalities manifest as fairly normal alternate characters (e.g. a young boy with a lisp, a prim Englishwoman, and a control-freak enforcer), known collectively as “The Horde,” when Kevin becomes The Beast, his strength is amplified to an inhuman degree and he is seen on numerous occasions climbing the walls like he’s Spider-Man, except he does it with bare hands and feet.
It’s implied in Split that the emergence of The Beast in Kevin’s consciousness fundamentally changed his brain chemistry and physical abilities, much in the way superpowers manifest and change their superhero hosts in other comic books and superhero films. We see further evidence of this in the Glass trailer, as The Beast climbs the walls at an absurd height, leaps and bounds across the grounds of the psychiatric hospital in a distinctly non-human way, and is briefly seen using his bloodlusty strength to subdue hospital workers, crunching them into unnatural angles.
If you made it this far, then hopefully any questions about whether or not Elijah, David, and Kevin have superpowers have been answered. Shyamalan has delivered to his audience three unique characters, rooted in the modern world — a world we know and understand — while fashioning them into the kinds of characters we might more immediately recognize in the pages of a comic book. It will no doubt be interesting to see how Glass plays out now that all three of these characters are in one thrilling story.
Glass arrives in theaters Friday, January 18. You can purchase your tickets here.
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