What follows may seem like the ramblings of a madman, but I assure you: They are completely sane and rational (kind of) and you probably won’t find them all that crazy once I am done making my case. Please understand and be warned, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
DC and Warner Brothers should really sit down and have a long talk with M. Night Shyamalan. They should ask him how it is that he can be two for two making superhero/supervillain movies while they are batting a solid .000 when it comes to superhero movies following the end of the Nolan Batman trilogy. Fox should also jump in on this to make it a full round table discussion about how to craft superhero drama, especially if their attempt to enter this blossoming genre with LOGAN fails. Disney Marvel can skip the round table portion of this discussion—CIVIL WAR and DOCTOR STRANGE are proof positive that they get it—and get down to the business of letting Shyamalan handle one of their lesser known characters and turning it into a tight, smart, tense film. Maybe he can direct the inevitable PUNISHER film.
With just two films, Shyamalan has established his very own superhero/supervillain universe. It’s a gritty place, full of heartbreak and tragedy. These people are us, just slightly removed. His heroes and villains are broken people just trying to get by or struggling to realize their place in life. All of this is typical fare to a person who reads the funny books once a week. His world is grim, but real. It’s everything that DC wants their movieverse to be and everything it will never be, simply because Shyamalan is beholden to no one when it comes to the creation of this universe. At this point you’re saying “sure I get how UNBREAKABLE was a superhero flick, but SPLIT? How are you going to sell me on that?” Well, let’s see if I can. Here goes nothing.
In UNBREAKABLE Shyamalan gives us one man’s quest to find a real life superhero. His name is Elijah Price and his journey leads him down many dead ends and drives him to do terrible things to prove his theory correct. He finds what he is looking for, a man named David Dunn, and creates (the world’s first?) superhero through a series of engineered meetings and challenges where Price slowly becomes Dunn’s mentor. Primarily so he can justify his genetic predisposition to broken bones and his nickname “Mr. Glass.” Our hero, now a out and out superhero armed with psychic abilities, invulnerability and a new found sense of purpose promptly turns in his new arch nemesis before he can hurt anyone else. The film is about broken, damaged people trying to find their way in life, to find purpose in suffering and tragedy. Our hero is broken but unbreakable and his antagonist is fragile but also dogged in his determination, just as unbreakable in his own lunatic way.
Fast forward 16 years to SPLIT. If UNBREAKABLE is introducing us to the kinds of heroes that populate M. Night’s superhero universe, then SPLIT is his introduction to what sort of monsters might be cut from the same cloth as David Dunn’s Night Watchman/Specter-type character. SPLIT is the origin story of new villain, one physical and terrifying. We watch, in disbelief, as Kevin—a man with 23 separate personalities— struggles to control his life after several of his identities go rogue. These multiple personalities give rise to a new kind of human, one that would fit well on the pages of a book from Image comics or one of the darker Marvel or DC titles. This monstrous evolution is known as The Beast by those who seek to free him from the dark recesses of Kevin’s fragmented mind. The Beast—representing man’s darkest, rawest, most primordial untapped potential— comes to lead the broken, who he claims are more evolved because of their suffering, and to punish the rest of the world. In the end, the Beast takes two shotgun blasts—point blank— from our heroine and then escapes. As the movie gets ready to roll credits we find that he has been given the nickname Horde by the media. The movie sets up multiple personality disorder as the key to unlocking untapped human potential, a theory promoted by a psychologist treating Kevin and other people like him. Her theory is simple, we are only limited by the constraints our minds put on us. We are only human because we believe that we are and when we can reach beyond that, anything is possible. She is essentially Charles Xavier.
It seems that the source of Shyamalan’s heroes and villains comes down to severe trauma. This trauma allows them evolve past the normal constraints of human biology. The film ends with the Beast and his other personalities preening over their victory, preparing for whatever comes next. Just prior to that though we get what is really exciting to me. There is a scene in a diner that closes on David Dunn pensively watching the news feed describing what Horde has done. You can tell that he is strongly considering his next move, which most likely would be to hunt down this new creature and bring it to justice.
The third film in this sequence should be just that, Dunn racing to find or stop Horde, who has sought out help from Mr. Glass a la Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter. Or perhaps he seeks out the other patients being treated by his doctor, who served as a kind of Professor Xavier to Kevin and his mental brethren. His evolution is due to her belief that such a thing was possible and he may now see it as his duty to help others reach that same potential. Either way Dunn has to stop him before he gains enough power or followers to really do some damage to the world at large. This all makes sense if you look at UNBREAKABLE and SPLIT as part of a larger series of films commenting on human nature and drawing parallels from comics to life. SPLIT serves as a perfect middle-of-a-trilogy film in this regard, especially when you look at how the villain wins in the end. This wrong must be righted and it is up to Dunn to do so. The possibilities to continue this into a third penultimate film is incredible. As is the fact that Shyamalan has managed to create multiple films that serve as both dramas and to create a wider superhero/supervillain mythos. DC and Warner Bros. REALLY need to schedule that sit down with him as soon as possible, they might learn a thing or two.