M. Night Shyamalan is back with the third - and presumably final - film in the Unbreakable universe. With the surprise twist of Split, viewers were left hoping for a film that brought back the hero - and villain - of old.
Unbreakable (2000) released the same year as the first X-Men film, and was thus, somewhat of a novelty. One of Shyamalan's greatest strength is in creating intimate windows by which viewers can access new genres. He wanted to create a superhero film, but he also wanted it to be steeped in reality. Bruce Willis' David Dunn barely believes he is super; it's only at his son's continual support and pushing that he embraces his true calling. (The fact that Spencer Treat Clark returned as the character adds a cohesive element that might otherwise be completely lacking.) Even the villain, Mr. Glass, has good intentions. He wants Dunn to be a hero. He wants the world to be populated by the super and supreme. Sure, a violent act has to occur for heroes to be born, but the sacrifice is worth it. Not quite your typical "I'm going to take over the world" ploy.
Split similarly turned the horror genre, by creating a villain with multiple personalities. There were aspects of him that one could empathize with and pity. Kevin is simply a guy with multiple personalities (D.I.D. in the film), and he doesn't want for anyone to get hurt. This engagement with empathy is also one of the more compelling aspects of Glass.
What M. Night Shyamalan gets right is in the interactions of his characters. James McAvoy is incredibly talented. Bruce Willis brings a downplayed persona to his performance. And Sam Jackson? The guy is a genius - and not just playing one. Each of them is also bolstered by their side-kick - Charlayne Woodard reprising her role as Mr. Glass' mother, Clark as Joseph Dunn, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cook. It was the relationships with these peripheral, non-super characters that added flesh and bones to the film. How does being super affect the lives of those closest to you?
Where this movie lacks is in story. The initial interactions within the institution are enjoyable for the quirk that each of these characters presents. McAvoy flits between personalities - some that weren't seen in Split. Jackson humors the audience by playing dumb, acting as if he is completely incapacitated by the medications he is being given, but somehow escaping his room on numerous occasions. Even Willis brings a sense of forlorn to Dunn, as he battles, once again, with the truth of being a hero.
However, once these characters are pitted against one another - and a sinister foe is introduced - it falls short. There is little set up for what could be considered "the twist." It comes as a surprise - not an "I can't believe it! He's dead!" kind of way, but more in a "the elders are secretly the monsters that come at night and they are hiding us from the world" way. What I will say, is that the stakes were very real for these heroes and villains. M. Night Shyamalan did not want a "and the heroes get away again!" There are consequences. People may die. Super individuals may live among us, but they can bleed just like the rest of us. It's not entirely doom and gloom, but these supers may have met their match.