MASSIVE SPLIT SPOILERS AHEAD
Early this year, M. Night Shyamalan returned to audience’s good graces with his new hit film Split, starring James MacAvoy. The Horror/Thriller movie followed three girls who were kidnapped by a dangerous man named Kevin Wendell Crumb, who was plagued with 23 separate personalities. Some of Kevin’s personalities are friendly, child-like or simply quirky. But there are two personalities that plague Kevin that worship a mysterious 24th personality, called The Beast.
As the movie progresses, we discover that The Beast is very real, transforming Kevin into a blood-thirsty and supernaturally powered man who preys upon those he deems impure. He determines impureness by people who have never experienced suffering in their lives. At the end of the film, The Beast escapes and only one of the girls he kidnapped survived the encounter. While news agencies are reporting on the incident, Kevin is given the new alias “The Horde”. For most, this would serve as a perfect ending that leads to future sequels. But in pure M. Night Shyamalan fashion, we are treated to a massive twist.
REALLY BIG SPLIT SPOILER AHEAD, IF YOU’RE STILL READING THIS, IT IS YOUR FAULT AND YOU HAVE NOBODY TO BLAME BUT YOURSELF
In the diner where the television reporter announces Kevin’s new persona, a woman in the diner mentions that the story of Kevin is similar to an even that occurred 15 years earlier with a wheelchair-bound terrorist. At that moment, it’s revealed that the man sitting next to her is none other than David Dunn (Bruce Willis) from M. Night Shyamalan’s hit film Unbreakable from 2001 and the events she is referring to are about his nemesis from the film, Mr. Glass.
Suddenly, the audience is treated to the realization that we did not just watch another horror movie about a psycho serial killer, but a super villain origin story set in the Unbreakable universe. It was a moment very similar to the first post-credits scene in Iron-Man when Nick Fury appeared to Tony Stark to let him know he was part of a much larger world. Just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe before, Split cleverly sets up an Unbreakable Universe.
Cinematic Universes are Hollywood’s new favorite idea, thanks to Marvel Studio’s success. The beauty of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that with each film, audiences are able to connect with each member of The Avengers. By the time a massive team-up film occurs, we’ve spent an entire film’s length with each character and have grown attached to them. We’re sympathetic to characters like Captain America or Iron Man and their motivations. But Split took that idea and flipped it on its head. What if there was a film that attached us to a villain, fully fleshed out their motivations and then set up the conflict between a hero that we are also emotionally attached to? Only time will tell how the sequel to Unbreakable and Split will play out, but the idea of the film is one of the most exciting prospects for a Cinematic Universe in recent memory.
If there’s one major weakness in Marvel movies, it’s the fact that most of the villains aren’t incredibly fleshed out. Aside from Loki, many of the villains lack both depth and continuity. Most of the Marvel films end with the death of the villain, wrapping up their story with a neat bow. Unfortunately, that means we don’t get to spend much time with the villains and learn their motivations or stories. They exist to push the plot forward, but they’re given bare motivations and we don’t spend much time examining why they’re evil. Don’t get me wrong, I would never sympathize with Hydra/Nazi leader Red Skull, but giving him a few more movies and conflicts with Captain America would build up the rivalry and depth between both characters.
The only property that’s truly allowed audiences to attach themselves to villains on the Marvel side are the Netflix series that exist as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Due to their episodic nature, the perspective of the story is allowed to change and we’re able to experience things that most films would need to cut for time’s sake. In Marvel’s Daredevil Season One, one of the standout episodes of the series focused on Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his traumatic childhood. Instead of delivering a generic character whose sole purpose was crime for crime’s sake, we see a complicated character who falls in love with a woman and truly believes he’s doing the right thing. We see why he develops violent tendencies and why he believes that his way of doing things is the only way to save his city. The Netflix Marvel series provide us with plenty of complicated characters, and the episodic nature allows audiences to experience the gritty details that most films are forced to skip over.
Marvel produces high-quality content; and following films like Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s obvious they aren’t averse to taking creative risks. Following Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel that is planned to be “the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Marvel has quite a few options for future films. Perhaps, based off the success of the Split/Unbreakable sequel, we could see Marvel tackle what a super villain movie could look like in their universe.
Currently, Sony has plans to produce a Venom film separate from the Marvel Cinematic Universe with no connection to his rival, Spider-Man. I can’t help but feel like the Venom movie is a missed opportunity to be Marvel’s first in-universe Villain film. A horror movie starring a man controlled by a suit that consumes people might be a little bleak for Marvel, but it could possibly work.
There are a variety of studios who are trying to recapture the magic of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and ride on the success of inter-connected films. Legendary is working on creating a Monster-Verse featuring King Kong and Godzilla, Warner Brothers is trying to catch up to Marvel with their own DC Cinematic Universe featuring their own superheroes, and for some reason Universal is creating a horror universe where The Mummy can interact with Dr. Jekyll. Many movies are taking Marvel’s recipe and applying it to varying degrees of success, but Split is the first film to take the idea and add something new to it. We can only speculate on the success of what comes after, but I’m rooting for Shyamalan to pull off something special.