AUGUST 5, 2011
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)
I got a chance to catch the opening disaster sequence (the premonition one, which is always more fun than the real one) of Final Destination 5 at Comic Con, and I was pretty dang impressed. The FX were astonishing; I was actually specifically looking for tell-tale CGI signs as the bridge entered its final stage of collapse and saw none. Also, the 3D was great (even in a truck with a makeshift theater installed) and more importantly, the deaths were friggin' hilarious. And thus I said that as long as the movie was half as good, it would ultimately be one of the better entries.
Well, indeed it is, certainly topping the 3rd and 4th films (the latter of which didn't hold up on a 2nd viewing; I still like it more than most folks did, but I'm certainly not as enthusiastic now). However there's a slight tonal issue as it attempted to blend the more character driven approach of the original with the gonzo approach of the other sequels (best exemplified by FD2, my favorite of the series). It's admirable that they try to get us to care about the characters again - there's even a lengthy "let's meet the gang" scene that occurs before they even get on the bus - but the approach to the deaths/plot is largely the same: the death scenes are as comical as ever, and even though they introduce a new wrinkle, it's never really used.
The rest of the review has SPOILERS. If you don't wish to learn about any of its new plot elements and/or some of the deaths, don't read any further! Come back after you see it in theaters, and yes it's worth the extra buck or two for the 3D experience.
As with the other sequels (well, maybe not FD4), there is a new element introduced to set it apart from the others, and this time it's the idea that you can "balance the books" by killing someone else who presumably had a long time to live, and thus get their time rather than suffer through one of Death's Rube Goldberg-ian traps. But by the time we learn this, three of the eight are dead, and another dies instantly after seeing the results of the one time this idea was really implemented. Then the movie goes really into new territory, as one of our heroes decides to try to kill one of the others (who survived in the opening premonition and thus probably isn't on Death's list anyway), because for whatever reason he finds it easier to kill one of his friends than some random stranger. It's a cool idea, but they really don't do enough with it, making it seem somewhat tacked on. It's one of the longer entries as is, but I could have used a little more time spent with this stuff.
It also cuts down on how many of those "Mouse Trap" style death scenes that have become the series' calling card that we see. There are really only three major ones, with the other deaths being fairly simple; hell, one character is merely shot. There's always one great quick kill (think Amanda Detmer in the original getting slammed by that bus), but either they've run out of ideas for these things (as it is, two of the three are caused by electricity mixing with spilled water) or wanted to spend more time on the other things. The gymnast one is probably the best, as it's milked for every second of potential suspense (you know that tack that almost gets stepped on in the trailer? There's about a dozen near misses with the thing, and it never gets less nail-biting) and has the best "domino effect" of the series, not to mention the most wonderfully mangled corpse since that dude got flattened by the plate glass in FD2.
In another improvement over the last two sequels, they got established actors to play the two leads, and gave them a little meat to their roles that made it worth their time. Nicholas D'Agosto is a pretty charming everyman, and Emma Bell (Frozen, Walking Dead) is of course terrific. I can't even remember what the kids in the last one looked like, but these two leave an impression, and even though they're the heroes and thus you know they'll be safe until the final scene, it doesn't mean that their plight isn't worth caring about; you'll actually feel pretty bad when that inevitable final scene comes along.
Luckily, you'll also be (hopefully) kind of blown away by that epilogue. Without getting into specifics, it's the best "6 months later" (or whatever the time period is) scene of the entire series, and kudos to the filmmakers for hinting at it throughout the film in ways that can be interpreted differently. There seems to be one minor plot hole, but even in the context of a spoiler review I don't want to explain (it's something Bludworth says).
And yes, Bludworth returns! Tony Todd was only heard as a voice in FD3 and left out of FD4 entirely, so it's great to have him back. And even in today's insanely "back-story" loving world (why the hell does the new Spider-Man movie have his fucking origin AGAIN?), they still haven't really explained who he is or why he seems to know so much. And I love that, it leaves something open for a later sequel when the whole concept is running kind of thin. See, I never really thought about it before, but the fact that the series has no real villain (a Jason or Freddy type anti-hero) and a very clever hook (the elaborate death scenes) makes it very difficult to come up with new elements that can set each new film apart from its predecessors. You can take Jason and put him in space or on a boat and pretty much cover yourself, but just changing the locale wouldn't really cut it here; it would still need to be a place where the carpenters and other servicemen do a pretty terrible job at tightening their bolts and repairing frayed wiring. But at the same time, they can't go TOO far out of the box, lest it no longer feel like an entry in an established (and highly successful) franchise. However, I DO have an idea for a different way to handle the basic concept, if anyone wants to contact me...
I should also point out that there's a new creative team behind this one. 1 and 3 were Glen Morgan and James Wong, and 2 and 4 were David Ellis and the same writers (names escape me), but this was written by the same guy who wrote the Nightmare on Elm St remake (though heavily rewritten by Gary Dauberman, from what I understand) and directed by Steven Quale, making his directorial debut after years of working with Jim Cameron in both the FX and 2nd unit directing areas of his last 3-4 productions. And he makes a great first impression; his FX background is considerably helpful for the opening disaster as well as other CG heavy bits, and he actually manages to make the movie suspenseful, something the last couple didn't even bother to attempt for the most part. He also has a great approach to the 3D, with a lot of great comin at ya! shots but plenty of the depth/rack focus type visuals as well (he also seems to understand people might want to take the glasses off every now and then; there are a few closeup conversation scenes in which you can remove the glasses and not even see a blur/double line). And the "you are there" approach doesn't only apply to the 3D, there's an inspired moment during the gymnast sequence where the camera suddenly jerks at an angle, mimicking the sudden loosening of the bolt that will send the whole thing into chaos.
I want to wrap this up, but there are also two "who cares?" type things that I flat out loved, aiding my overall opinion that this was the best one since FD2, and I wanted to mention them. One is the opening credits, set to a kick-ass theme by Brian Tyler as we we watch the key objects from every death in the series (a log, a mannequin arm, etc) fly toward us, smashing glass and the credits themselves in an insanely excessive (read: awesome) manner. They're really long, but worth every second, and I think may be the thing that makes me finally man up and buy a 3DTV - I don't want to watch this sequence in 2D, ever. The other I won't explain in full, but just offer up a potential hashtag for twitter: #teddybearreactionshot. You'll just have to see it to know what I mean.
What say you?