Where are the Avengers when you really need them? If you’ve been keeping up with M. Night Shyamalan’s movies (and who hasn’t), you’ll know this is part three of his ‘comic book’ trilogy. His movies Unbreakable and Split were just the opening act to this finale which came as a complete surprise to many. A part three? Who knew?
Well, things have been getting rather sinister in Philly lately… Kevin (James McAvoy) from Split and his 23 personality “hoard” have taken some cheerleaders prisoner, while David Dunn (Bruce Willis) has upped his game since his Unbreakable movie days and has gone full vigilante, thanks to his computer-whiz son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), who is like an Alfred to his dad’s Batman, although his dad now goes by the moniker “The Tip-Toe Man” or “The Overseer” on the streets. And thanks to David’s ‘second-sight’ gifts (along with his super-strength), he’s able to stop Kevin’s unstoppable monstrous Beast-thingy that’s inside him.
BUT! All heroes are not praised and both David and Kevin are thrown into the Raven Hill Mental Institution where, according to the clinic’s head doctor, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), these guys are laboring under the delusion that they have special powers. Also in that same hospital is a very drugged-up Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) from Unbreakable, a dangerous criminal mastermind. Dr. Staple wants to somehow persuade these three that there is no such thing as superheroes (like in comic books) and that they just have a mental illness.
Meanwhile, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) from Split, suffering from a case of Stockholm Syndrome, goes to the hospital and wants to help the multiple personality Kevin, but can’t seem to connect. Pretty soon that crafty Elijah (aka the evil Mr. Glass), makes a deal with the Beast side of Kevin and forges an unholy alliance, but will David be able to stop them both?
Written & directed by M. Night Shyamalan (and yes, he makes his usual cameo in the movie), this finale to his trilogy is by far his best work in years. Unbreakable was long and tedious, while Split was over-written, but this movie (like the third bowl of porridge for Goldilocks) is just right. Moving like clockwork and delivering some great moments (with Shyamalan’s signature twists), it only has a few hiccups and some rather glaring plot holes to get over. Oh, and let’s not forget M. Night’s in-your-face camera shots that are both creepy and disturbing.
What sets this third picture apart is again showcasing McAvoy’s ingenious acting ability to jump from one character to character in the blink of an eye. It’s really something to watch and I enjoyed that more than anything else; the man is mesmerizing. Willis is laid-back and very intense, as is Jackson, who delivers a wickedly restrained performance. Taylor-Joy (with those almond-alien eyes of hers) is wonderful and Clark shines as David’s son & caretaker. Paulson (who I swear looks like Kristen Wiig) is excellent as the doctor with a cause.
This is a great way to end his trilogy that’s been around for 18 years, and you gotta hand it to Shyamalan for his dedication to his craft, even though it’s been spotty at times. True, his track record hasn’t been up there with the Spielberg’s, Zemeckis’, or the Scorsese’s of the world, but at least everyone knows his name! The acting here is outstanding, and the script moves along at nice, even clip that you can enjoy the excitement and thrills of the chaotic ending, which will leave your head spinning. In other words… what a twist!!
Since this concludes (??) M. Night’s trilogy (who knew there was even going to be a trilogy in the first place?), let’s take a look back at his two previous movies that made up this three-part superhero/villain mini-saga.
M. Night Shamalamadingdong is back and this time it’s actually a cut above his homicidal trees, lost water nymphs, or village-trapped people… but that’s not saying much, since his last truly blockbuster film was 2002’s Signs, a dazzling sci-fi tale about space aliens who hate water.
An exercise in how much one actor can pull off multiple personalities, James McAvoy does an astonishing job playing Kevin, but that’s just the tip of his 23 alter-personalities. Kevin has been mentally banished by the more aggressive Dennis, a bespectacled psycho that snatches three young girls from a mall in broad daylight and sequesters them in some sort of underground dungeon. The girls, frightened of this looney, try to figure out a way out of their locked room. Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marsha (Jessica Sula) are the most scared, but their outsider friend, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), seems to be the only level-headed one. We learn, in multiple flashbacks, that Casey had a shaky childhood and that explains her awkwardness.
Anyway, Dennis… I mean, ‘Hedwig’ (he’s 9-years-old) comes to visit the girls and takes a shine to Casey, who starts to understand Dennis’ other head-people and how to play them. There’s also ‘Patricia’ who surfaces, a British woman who’s as fastidious as she is dangerous, ‘Barry’ (a fussy fashion designer), and others collectively known as “The Hoard”. Each has an agenda, but it’s ‘Barry’ who visits his psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) to discuss his condition and his other personalities.
The good doctor suspects all is not quite right in Barry’s head and thinks he’s up to no good. Meanwhile, Barry… no, I mean, Dennis… nuts, I mean, Hedwig shows Casey his private room and a really cool CB walkie-talkie. But just as Casey tries to call for help, Dennis appears… no, it was Patricia first, then Dennis shows up and promises her she will be a victim of the “beast”; something that Dennis is always going on about. What who or what exactly is the ‘beast’?
Fearing the worst, Dr. Fletcher calls on Dennis at his work and, whoopsie-daisy, discovers the captured girls! But that’s the least of her worries as Dennis reveals to her his darkest secret: the beast that lives within the 23 inside his head. But #24 is significantly, shall we say, different? I won’t spoil the third act prestige, but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of the other Shyamalan’s other movies, expect the unexpected. Although this doesn’t have his usual “what a twist!” ending synonymous with all of his films (Willis was a ghost!? The Village was an experimental camp?!), it does have some mighty fine acting from the cast surrounding a simple plot.
Written and directed by Shyamalan (who appears, like Hitchcock or Stan Lee, in a cameo), he mixes the stereotypical kidnapping plot with the equally stereotypical multiple personality plot (something not really done before), and then throws in a third act Twilight Zone zinger. Yes, there was a (spoiler alert!) cutsie callback that garnished a chuckle at the epilogue, but even his mediocre The Visit had more of a WOW! ending that this needed. Expect a third movie to come out from all this.
M. Night loves his close-up’s and follow-through’s and can direct a film well, building some nice tension and excitement, but as a writer, he needs to go back and watch the original Zone or The Outer Limits to know how to deliver that one-two punch at the end. I will say that he cast well, with McAvoy leading the pack with his sharp portrayal of each of his characters; popping in and out of them, sometimes as the camera holds on him and we watch the transformation. Very cool. Buckley is excellent and almost steals the thunder from McAvoy, while Taylor-Joy eats the camera with those big beautiful brown eyes and underlying fearless attitude.
Sandwiched in-between his glorious The Sixth Sense and Signs came this oddball film that dared to be called a superhero movie, but didn’t LOOK like any superhero movie. M. Night Shyamalan wrote this quirky homage to pulp comic books with a sly ‘what-if’ premise (could a real superhero live amongst us today?). Hey, Marvel, look! No capes!
Imagine a world where there’s real-life superheroes and villains–just like in comic books. Got that? Good. Then I want you to meet Elijah Price–aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). Born with a horrible disease where his bones break easily, he’s now a comic book art dealer who obsesses. He theorizes that if HE was born so weak & frail, then someone else was born ‘unbreakable’, and MUST be found! Price then sets about finding that mysterious individual at any cost, even it means killing hundreds in order to find that one person.
Now meet simple family man and security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who is facing turmoil in his unhappy life. Aside from his failing marriage, he’s the sole survivor (no injuries!) of a horrific train accident. Not going unnoticed, Price/Glass talks with Dunn and tests him about his comic book knowledge, much to the intrigue of Dunn’s young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Dunn, not imagining that HE would ever be a superhero, dismisses the claim, even saying that water would be his Kryptonite, if that would be the case. But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that the Price is right! What he thought was just a natural “instinct” for picking out dangerous people during security checks is actually a form of ESP. David also discovers that when he touches other people, he is able to glimpse criminal acts they have committed.
As David starts to become the superhero he thinks he is by performing good deeds, his son picks up on this and believes that his dad is like Superman; even wanting to prove it with a loaded gun! David finally confronts Elijah and, upon shaking his hand, ‘sees’ all the horror he has done. The die is cast and, as Mr. Glass is hauled away for crimes against humanity, David walks away knowing his new future is set as well.
After his jaw-dropping Sixth Sense, people were chomping at the bit for another Shyamalan masterpiece. What they got was this: and overly-long dramatic slog about modern day superheroes and villains that just dragged on and on and on. One thing was sure, Shyamalan had a decent and compelling story in there in there somewhere, but his execution was in question. He took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to tell the story! You pretty much got where the premise was going, but it dragged on to a conclusion that didn’t even have a payoff. Yes, Dunn IS a real-life superhero and Glass is a bonafide villain. We already GOT that, TYVM!
To their credit, both Willis and Jackson are totally on board with the storyline that, if you saw Shyamalan’s later films, could have gone another way entirely. Jackson, wearing a messed-up ‘fro and looking like the Joker’s third cousin is electric and sinister while Willis is about as laid-back, yet intense a superhero can be. These two are a perfectly matched set.