If you are a fan of martial arts-oriented movies like me, surely you have come across multiple movies starring the forever iconic Michael Jai White. In his career spanning over thirty years, the criminally underrated actor has starred in several dozen movies and series that could never justify his potential. Even before the superhero fad became a thing, he portrayed the titular character in Spawn as the first person of color to portray a superhero lead in live-action, yet he was overlooked by most franchise giants and limited to voice acting and small-screen portrayals of caped crimefighters. As I finished watching The Island, the first thought that came to mind was how the veteran action star is so neglected, as even in his mid-fifties, he is showcasing his acting chops and bringing enough physical skill to the game to put young actors to shame.
While The Island is a pretty straightforward, simplistic story of revenge set on an unnamed Caribbean Island, Michael Jai White, as the lead, becomes the saving grace, as is the case with his numerous such direct-to-video releases.
A Frightening Beginning: Who Is Manuel Alvarez?
The Island with a montage of a picturesque Caribbean Island with Spanish jazz music playing in the background. The camera focuses on the source of the music: Nora, a young singer from Chicago who is performing in front of Manuel Alvarez, the most powerful business tycoon on the island. Impressed by her performance, Manuel offers for her to sing exclusively for his club in exchange for three times the amount she receives at her main job. Nora is flattered and wonders about the proposition when Manuel’s club bartender, Akheem, accidentally spills some wine on her while serving. Akheem apologizes, and Nora acknowledges that it is not his fault. However, the degenerate, egotistical Manuel doesn’t take this unwitting mistake of Akheem too kindly and lodges a knife right into his throat, killing him then and there. Nora gets horrified seeing the violent side of the mogul and has no option but to agree to his proposition of staying on the island as his private singer. In a tranquil atmosphere, the sudden bout of violence clearly shakes up the tone and prepares viewers for the upcoming carnage.
Who is Mark Ethridge? Why Did He Move To The Island?
The scene shifts to a construction site in Los Angeles, where rugged, taciturn LAPD officer Mike Ethridge and his chatterbox, smarty-pants partner, Phil, are busting a couple of drug dealers. Mike receives a phone call that leaves him distraught, and he immediately heads for the aforementioned island. It is revealed that Mark is Akheem’s elder brother; the duo was brought up on the island since the period their parents migrated there, up until a personal tragedy caused Mark to move to LA seven years ago. The loss of Mark and his wife Akila’s stillborn daughter caused a trauma so significant that it resulted in the separation and Mark’s departure from the island. Now once again, a tragedy has brought him back to the place he calls home, and he is determined to know more about his brother’s death.
After the wake of his brother, Mark goes through his brother’s stuff at his parental home, where his mother, Yvonne, informs him about how the situation on the island has changed a lot since he left. Mark is determined to set things right, but after losing one son, Yvonne doesn’t want him to get involved in this mess. Mark goes to his old friend, the island police Chief Nate Wayland, to get some leads about his brother’s death, but fails to recover anything substantial.
Mark also meets his childhood friend, Teseam, from whom he procures his previously stashed ammunition and weaponry. Lastly, he visits his ex-wife Akila, who has been running a dojo for island kids for the last three years, and gets to know from her that the island has gradually been infested with drug problems brought by gangs from neighboring islands. To add to the misery, Manuel Alvarez has become the unofficial ‘owner’ of the island, controlling its finance, business, law, and every other sector in such a way that most of the islanders depend on him for their day-to-day earnings. Akila also informs Mark that Akheem had joined Alvarez’s club as a bartender a couple of months ago, which makes Mark suspect Alvarez’s involvement in his death.
What Happened To Nora? What information had Nate gathered?
Mark goes to Alvarez, and the duo share a heated exchange while measuring each other up. Regarding Akheem, he misdirects Mark to the local club and sends northern gangs to take care of him accordingly. Later, as Mark arrives at the club to interrogate the gang members about his brother’s demise, a fight ensues, and Mark easily knocks the lights out of the members. However, Alvarez sends a hit squad to the club to kill Mark, and he somehow escapes. The hit squad goes to the Ethridge household to kill Yvonne, but as they shoot up the place, they find her to be absent as Mark has already sent his mother to Akila’s place. Nate arrives at the scene and once again meets Mark, who insists on Nate helping in the case for the sake of the islanders. Nate suggests he talk with Nora, who might have an idea about his brother’s fate.
So long, Nora had been under house arrest on the island, with Manuel assigning a drug peddler to her whose job it was to keep her hooked on dope and keep her forever disillusioned, as she is the only outside witness to Akheem’s murder. Fortunately for Mark, Nora had faked taking the drugs for quite some time and was in a mentally sound condition. Mike asks her for information regarding his brother’s death, assuring her that she will be safely escorted to the USA. Nora shares the truth about Akheem’s death, and as promised, Mike entrusts Nate with her safe escape and asks his partner at LAPD, Phil, to arrange a safe house in Miami. Meanwhile, Manuel blames both his former hit squad and Nora’s drug peddler for their failures and contacts Cartel crews for assistance. Nate asks Mark why he isn’t considering the option that, with Nora by their side, they can easily make a case against Alvarez that can put him behind bars. Mark retorts, saying that Nate himself knows pretty well that criminals like Alvarez can easily manipulate legal loopholes and get out of prison, leaving them with the one ultimate choice: ending Alvarez once and for all.
Armed with SMGs, Cartel associates of Alvarez pay a visit to Akila’s dojo, which they find to be vacant, and as they proceed to break into her house, Mark arrives just in time to lead her and his mother to safety. A shootout takes place inevitably, leading to the deaths of a couple of cartel operatives. Nate arrives at Akila’s house, gets involved in the shootout as well, and somehow survives. Realizing he might not get the chance to see the end of this investigation, Nate gathers his findings and entrusts them to the local church’s priest. Mark entrusts the safety of his mother to his childhood buddy Teseam, but contrary to Mark’s wish, Akila is not willing to leave his side and stays to assist him against Alvarez in every way possible. She also decides to have a heart-to-heart with Mark about their past tragedy and shares her concern for him. On the other hand, after learning about Nora’s escape, Alvarez realizes his entire operation is in jeopardy if she testifies and gets increasingly desperate.
Did Mark Finally Get Justice For His Brother?
That same night, Nate arrives to meet Mark at the rendezvous point, but Mark finds him brutally beaten and on the verge of death. Tracking Nate, Alvarez’s right-hand man, and Cartel operatives have arrived at the location and engaged in a brief shootout with Akila and Mark, which ended in Akila being abducted by them. A distraught Mark holds his friend, Nate, in his final moments, and as he breathes his last, Mark reminds him of the fond childhood memories he, Akheem, and Nate shared.
The next morning, an enraged Mark goes to church and shares details about Alvarez’s heinous actions with the islanders, which riles them up. The church priest hands him over the files that Nate had given him, which Mark finds to be a collection of gathered evidence, an ongoing case file against Alvarez on money laundering, etc. Also, unable to hold his excitement any longer, Mark’s LAPD partner, Phil, has also decided to arrive on the island and join Mark in his last stand against Alvarez.
As fate might have it, almost like a miracle, two islander kids spot a location that was being guarded by Alvarez’s right-hand man, and as they decide to inform Mark about it, he realizes it to be the place where Akila has been held captive. That night, Alvarez calls Mark to let him know that he is willing to release Akila if Mark brings Nora to him the next day at a rendezvous point. Mark agrees, and the next morning he sends a task force of local policemen led by Phil to rescue Akila while he goes to face Alvarez for a final showdown.
Phil and Co. manage to rescue Akila, up to which point Mark stalls Alvarez, and finally, after knowing her to be secure, informs Alvarez of his inevitable defeat. After easily knocking down Alvarez’s henchman, Mark moves towards the degenerate mogul when the sound of a gunshot is heard. It is initially assumed that Mark gets shot by Alvarez’s right-hand man, but it is revealed that the islanders, led by Teseam, now armed and motivated to bring down Alvarez, have surrounded the place and killed the right-hand man. Mark engages in physical combat with Alvarez, where he humiliatingly ragdolls him, and as Alvarez desperately pulls a knife on him, Mark stabs him to death in the same manner he previously killed Akheem. Finally exacting his revenge on Akheem’s killer, Mark has also liberated his home from the clutches of corporate evil. The Island ends with him and Akila contemplating starting their lives together anew while sharing a laugh while seeing Phil’s antics.