This follow-up to Unbreakable and Split that sees writer-director M. Night Shyamalan poised to make a triumphant return should be a cause for celebration. Instead, it quickly becomes an embarrassing (and lengthy) showcase for all his worst traits.
Returning here are Bruce Willis as the sensitive but super-strong David Dunn, Samuel L. Jackson as the brittle-boned, intellectually-superior Elijah Price, and James McAvoy as all twenty-four personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb. The three are confined to a mental institution by the soft-spoken psychiatrist, Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). She’s made it her mission to convince Dunn, Price and Crumb that their supposed ‘abilities’ are nothing more than delusions of grandeur.
As is so often the case with Shyamalan (who makes an embarrassing cameo within the first ten minutes), this setup promises much and delivers little. Any sense of ambiguity or suspense is entirely undone by its strange obsession with relegating Willis’ character to the sidelines, and a calamitous third act. The former is particularly puzzling: Dunn is - for this critic - the most sensitive and well-drawn of Willis’ roles, and nobody would pass up the chance to see him shine after so many years of action shlock drudgery.
Unfortunately, Shyamalan seems far more interested in Crumb (now known as The Horde). McAvoy is wedded to his role with the admirable dedication of the finest method actor, but the script from which he works is unable to reconcile the quiet empathy of Unbreakable with the B-movie exuberance of Split. Jackson aims for the latter, hamming it up for all he’s worth from the confines of Elijah’s wheelchair.
Anya Taylor-Joy (playing The Horde’s sole survivor) brings a certain layer of much-needed pathos, but it’s too little, too late. By the time she’s brought into play, the director’s desperation to join the big boys club of spandex and spin-offs is writ large. Apparent too, is an abject refusal to grow in any way beyond his much-parodied hallmarks. “How many twists would you like with that, sir?”