Written by: Glenn Morgan & James Wong and Jeff Reddick
Directed by: James Wong
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, and Kris Lemche
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"This is the end of the line..."
Sequels are usually regarded by many as disappointments that are almost automatically inferior to their predecessors and only serve to drag a once good name through the mud. I, on the other hand, am quite the opposite: I'm a sucker for sequels, particularly ones in major franchises. This decade's been a bit rough on the old standbys: we've only seen Freddy once, Jason thrice, and Michael once (for those counting along, I'm not sure who that guy in the Shatner mask is in Rob Zombie's Halloween). As a fan of the first two Final Destination films, I was excited upon hearing the announcement of Part 3, as the prospect of it spawning into a much-needed new franchise was something I could certainly get behind. Now, history has shown that Part 3s can be pretty erratic--at best, they can either turn out to be the best in the franchise (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3) or, at worst, they can signal the beginning of the end (Jaws III).
Set six years after the destruction of Flight 180 and the events of the original Final Destination, part 3 finds us in Pennsylvania, where Wendy is a soon-to-be graduate from McKinley High School. It's Grad Night at the local amusement park, where the main attraction is "The Devil's Flight," an intimidating roller-coaster that has Wendy on edge. After she has a horrifying vision of the coaster malfunctioning and killing everyone involved, she manages to get off the ride along with a few others who are drawn into the chaos of her panic. Of course, the roller coaster does malfunction and everyone on board is killed, including her best friend and her boyfriend. Wendy consequently feels an extreme sense of survivor's remorse following the accident; that is, until the rest of the survivors begin dying in strange accidents, leaving Wendy and her late friend's boyfriend, Kevin, to figure out how to stop death's sinister plot.
As far as Part 3s go, Final Destination 3 falls somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned range. While it doesn't quite improve on the two films before, it's still a solid, worthy entry that doesn't exhibit any major warning signs that the series is losing steam. It's appropriate that the film-makers decided to use a roller coaster as the accident center-piece, as it's indicative of what the series itself has become: a non-stop, gut-churning thrill ride with death itself at the wheel doling out carnage. The second film in the series started this trend, as the deaths became a bit more elaborate and full of gore. While the opening roller-coaster accident is a bit of a letdown after Part 2's stunning car pile-up, the remaining death sequences in Part 3 feature even more spectacular gore sequences than before.
Indeed, the series has become infamous for its death scenes, particularly the ones that involve a long, elaborate setup. Part 3 does especially well in this regard, as the writers threw in an extra wrinkle in the storyline involving the pictures Wendy took of the survivors on that fateful night. It turns out that each picture contains clues about that person's death, which practically invites the audience to participate in a guessing game. It's fairly clever, and most of the deaths make great use of the series' classic use of misdirection; you'll often find yourself looking one way, only to be suddenly be assaulted from another direction as death swoops in. The result is a memorable assortment of deaths, some of which are among the best in the series so far.
The continued focus on this aspect also results in the film's biggest weakness: the characters, particularly the supporting cast, which is composed of the most extreme, obnoxious caricatures the series has had to offer so far. While the first two films didn't exactly develop deep characters, there was still an attempt to keep them grounded and feel real; here, you almost can't wait for most of the cast to meet their gory demise. Thankfully, the lead characters are serviceable, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead especially is an improvement over her lead counterpart (A.J. Cook) in the second film. We get some good, quiet character moments with her that develop her into a fairly sympathetic character, meaning the film isn't all about the splatter.
However, just know that those quiet moments are few and far between, as the film is mostly committed to being a popcorn film, and it succeeds in this respect. Like the second film, it doesn't have the dark, mean-spirited tone of the original, as it loads up on the dark, ironic humor of the second film (for example, two ill-fated victims sing along to the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster"); in addition, there's also other moments of humor that attempt to bring levity, but these mostly fall flat because they feel forced and unnatural, as it's hard to believe anyone would crack a joke about their own imminent death. The film does manage to mirror one aspect of the original, but unfortunately, it's the worst aspect--the climax, as it once again feels like the writers once again struggled with a logical conclusion, and the fact that we've seen the exact scenario play out in the first film dulls the impact. Fortunately, the coda still manages to satisfy, even if it too is a bit of a retread.
Original director James Wong returned to the director's chair for this one, and it was pretty clear he was trying to replicate the best aspects of the first two films. The end result is a strong entry in this series, as it's another slick and stylish thrill ride in the vein of the best 80s body count films. While it's not as strong as the previous entries, Part 3 does manage to solidify the series as a bona-fide franchise; many will point to Saw as being the series of the decade, but I'll cast my lot with the Final Destination films, which have consistently been better films. The upcoming entry (entitled The Final Destination) will continue to write the series' legacy, but with 3 good films under its belt, any entry in this franchise will earn my money at the box office.
Appropriately enough, Final Destination 3 ended up being one of New Line Cinema's last profitable ventures before the company was eventually absorbed by Warner Brothers in early 2008. As usual, New Line gave the film a good DVD treatment, as the film features a solid widescreen transfer along with both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks that will leave your walls and floor shaking. The main attraction as far as special features go is the "Choose Their Fate!" version of the film, wherein the viewer is allowed to choose who lives and dies, which alters the narrative of the film. It's an interesting features to say the least, if not a bit gimmicky. Alongside this, there's a making of documentary, a feature about "dead teenager movies," a commentary with the film makers, an animated short, and promotional materials. Last but not least is an easter egg that tells you just what happened to Kimberly and Officer Burke from the previous film. Even though it's not quite as good as the films before it, this thrill ride deserves a spot on your shelf. Buy it!
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