REVIEW / SUPERHERO THRILLER
129 minutes/Opens today/2.5 stars
The story: Following the events of Split (2016) and Unbreakable (2000), the three protagonists are now imprisoned by the state in a mental institution. David "The Overseer" Dunn (Bruce Willis), Elijah "Mr Glass" Price (Samuel L. Jackson) and Kevin "The Horde" Crumb (James McAvoy) are in therapy, supervised by Dr Staple (Sarah Paulson).
Somewhere in all this self-importance, there is a strong, lean superhero story. The trouble is that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has a habit of standing in his own way.
Every 15 minutes or so, someone will intone Wikipedia paragraphs about the nature and structure of the superhero versus supervillain arc. There was some of this in Unbreakable, but that heavy-handed, patronising guidance goes into overdrive here.
There are massive plot holes that could have been forgiven if not for the sections that say that unless viewers understand the how and why of comic-book superheroes, they might not "get" the movie.
This tic - the need to lean on an uber-story to rationalise or talk up the one shown on screen - is a habit that Shyamalan fans know too well and have suffered through.
There is another problem - poorly staged action, which plagued Split (2016) and The Last Airbender (2010), Shymalan's live-action adaption of the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 to 2008).
Shyamalan is gifted in suspense, but he is awful at staging action scenes.
Kudos to him for using only "real" or practical effects though. As Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (2005 to 2012) showed, realistic effects and the superhero format work well together.
Shyamalan's action scenes - Crumb (McAvoy) lunging, Dunn (Willis) displaying his strength - are confusing or limply edited, and often both.
As the animated feature Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (showing in cinemas) shows, going meta can be a win for both film-makers and audiences.
The trick is not to make it feel like a lecture, especially when all that foreshadowing sets up expectations for a massive climax - one that, because of the story reminding the viewer of how epic it is, sabotages itself and becomes distinctly underwhelming.