Remember the early days of IMAX? Back when there were only three or four theaters, scattered across the major cities, each with some hour-long 3-D extravaganza? Remember how those movies were all some variation on two kids traveling back in time to the Paleolithic era, complete with sweeping shots of some breath-taking vista (like Africa by way of New Mexico) and the all-too-frequent T-Rex attack? Sure, the kids couldn’t act and the movie wasn’t so much a story as an excuse for the 3-D, but the presentation was decent, the format was inventive and the massive, face-sized glasses ensured that a sufficient amount of stuff leapt out at you across the screen.
I feel much the same way about The Final Destination. It’s not really a movie, or rather, it’s not a real movie, but it’s a hugely entertaining carnival ride of elaborate, three-dimensional bloodletting. It’s difficult to say whether the filmmakers took the 3-D format as permission to eschew things like story and performance, but beyond the non-existent narrative and uninspired acting, the kills are perfectly orchestrated to provide some gut-wrenching, laugh-inducing gore, all of which spatters back on the audience via the 3-D eyewear.
The story assumes that you know the drill by now. A bunch of attractive teenagers survive some horrible accident thanks to a random, psychic premonition only to be hunted down by the unstoppable force of Death which they so ironically avoided. The kind of mythology that used to take an entire movie to figure out is now communicated by a character saying, “We stayed up all night Googling death and premonitions and it works like this…” The Final Destination begins with a group of friends at a NASCAR event, one of whom, Nick, has the obligatory vision of a crash so implausibly epic that it causes a series of explosions resulting in the deaths of dozens by crushing, slicing, burning, impaling and decapitation by errant tire. And, of course, all of this happens through some extraordinarily in-your-face 3-D. The vision ends, the group runs out, taking a few other survivors with them, and the next 80 minutes is spent re-killing them in dynamic, though somewhat repetitive ways.
Where the first two movies, and to some degree the third, tried to expand upon the initial concept, adding layers of mythology and upping the cinematic ante, this film is content to give viewers more of the same, though in a way they’ve yet to experience. Whether this is enough for you depends entirely on your tastes, and while this critic would have liked to see the series explore a few of the bigger questions or attempt something different with the set-up, there’s certainly enough popcorn entertainment here to warrant the price of admission.
Director David R. Ellis returns from having crafted the second and most well-balanced chapter in the series – at least with regard to its kill-to-story ratio – but seems to struggle a bit with the execution. The balance is absolutely in favor of over-the-top, mindless fun, which is, for the most part, perfectly acceptable by Final Destination standards, but the kills aren’t nearly as inventive as in past films. The Rube Goldberg, mousetrap-esque nature of Death’s design was always the most interesting element of the series, but with this outing, one might as well put a counter at the bottom of the screen to clock the number of spilt liquids and gasoline trails that contribute to the death of our main cast. There are one or two memorable deaths – one involving a pool, the other an escalator – but there are an equal number of moments that borrow openly from past chapters, including the silent vehicle that strikes a joyous survivor or the aforementioned gasoline trails that always bend toward the fire. Were it not for the 3-D, which really makes each death play a bit better than it might have otherwise, the movie might easily have ranked as the least fulfilling of the series. But seen in the intended format and in the intended spirit, The Final Destination trumps the last chapter to rank as the franchise’s third-best entry.
While we suspect that this isn’t truly the final destination, we certainly hope that the next in the series will find some new creative ground or thematic area to explore. Because let’s face it, there’s only so much that one can do with stuff falling on other stuff that eventually ends up impaling somebody.