I love the Final Destination franchise in the same way that I love watching shows like American Gladiator and Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. Yes, it’s schlocky, but does really every movie need to be Shakespeare? Do you even want to watch Shakespeare? Final Destination 3 is goofy summer movie fun that requires virtually no intellectual effort on the part of the viewer, but ends up turning into a pretty good evening of vegging out on the couch. Ryan Merriman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead headline the cast of James Wong’s 2006 entry into the franchise. How well does it stand the test of time? Why did we skip FD2? Will we ever use tanning beds again? Read on to find out. Warning: spoilers.
Reviewed by: Mark
A gaggle of teenagers celebrating a senior night at a carnival dedicate their night to general debauchery (as teenagers are want to do). Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) tags along with her idiot friends while taking photos for the yearbook. She snaps pictures of each of her classmates playing games and standing in line for rides. As the night is coming to a close a large group (including everyone who had their picture taken) decide to ride “The Devil’s Flight” roller coaster. As they are boarding Wendy has a severe premonition in which all of the riders are horrifically mangled in a roller coaster crash when the tracks spontaneously disassemble (as roller coaster tracks are want to do).
Understandably, Wendy freaks the fuck out and gets everyone in her car thrown off the ride, leaving her boyfriend, Josh, struggling to free himself from another car as the ride departs. A few moments later as the group is being escorted away by security the roller coaster explodes into a ball of flame somehow, killing everyone on board. Later, Wendy, stricken with grief at the loss of her complete douche canoe of a boyfriend is flipping through the photos she took of the group that night only to realize that she took one of Josh in which there is a roller coaster in the background and *gasp* it looks vaguely like the car is hitting him in the head. Surely this is a sign that her 5 megapixel samsung point-and-click camera has the gift of future-sight.
She rushes to find Kevin (Ryan Merriman), Josh’s best friend, and they attempt to reassemble the gang from that night to tell them the news before anything bad happens. Alas, so many bad things have already happened. The two valley girls have burned alive in tanning beds (yuck), and the pervert “the great thing about high school girls is I keep getting older and they stay the same age” type received a rear cranial lobotomy from a car engine. The duo rush to find the person they have arbitrarily identified as being next in line, a football player named Lewis. They reach him in time, but also just sorta stand around watching his head get crushed by a bigass weight system. Way to fucking go guys. When they finally stumble ass-backwards into the only remaining living people from that night they narrowly save the worse one, while the other gets shot through the skull with a nail gun about 20 times.
At this point the remaining group knows the stakes, and it’s your standard Final Destination rules: there’s an established order of who dies first, if you get saved death skips you, if death doesn’t skip you then you get fucked real real bad. Without delving too far into the details, there is a showdown at the towns tricentennial in which a horse runs wild and (among other things) impales someone Iwo Jima style. When the dust settles Wendy, Kevin, and Wendy’s little sister are the only ones that remain of the original group. They are safe for a reason that is completely unexplained.
Flash forward about two years and we jump to a New York subway train. Wendy is on with her roommates as they go about their normal day-to-day. When she goes to get off she runs into her sister and the two catch up for a moment as the train departs. Shortly, they seen Kevin sitting at the front of the car. Once the three are reunited Wendy is treated to another horrible premonition of the subway car de-railing and killing everyone on board. This time, however, the doors have already closed and the train has left the station. She may know what’s coming, but none of them are able to get off.
What the Movie Does Right
It’s a bit reductive of me to say “you know what you’re getting into” with a Final Destination movie, but it’s certainly true at this point in the franchise. The reason I chose this entry over any of the others (we already reviewed Final Destination 1 last year) is because this is the perfect middle ground for the franchise. It doesn’t have the brooding seriousness of the original (remember those FBI agents?), and the deaths are dialed up to another level of absurd. The tanning bed scene is incredibly traumatic and brutal if you don’t know what to expect, and it’s just one of a cavalcade of absolutely crazy deaths that permeate the movie. They very a bit in weight and levity, but they’re all absurd and rely on the series’ signature Rube Goldberg type setups. This is the exact right level of violence mixed with silliness that you want in a summer blockbuster. For the record, this came out in February, but you can watch it whenever the hell you want now so I’m considering that point moot.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the performances of the leading duo. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the obvious star of the movie and has since gone on to do great things like 10 Cloverfield Lane. She takes the goofy script seriously enough for the audience to buy in, but also doesn’t overplay the role in the more low-key moments. Ryan Merriman may not have a tremendous career outside of Disney channel original movies, but he does a good job here of playing off of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. For the record, Luck of the Irish and Smart House were both great movies. Their chemistry isn’t perfect, but it plays extremely well in this movie that is only kind of supposed to be taken seriously.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Right off the bat there’s some casual upskirt photography by the protagonists. It’s played as a “look how rambunctious these high schoolers are” type moment, but in today’s day and age it really doesn’t play well. Frankie, the aforementioned way-too-old-for-high-school pervert doesn’t make things any better with his skeezy videotaping practices. We talk about time capsule movies sometimes as being reminiscent of another time, but this time capsule probably should have stayed closed (even if everyone got what was coming to them).
Speaking of not aging well, there is some very skittish CG graphics draped over this movie. The film itself opens with an extended pinball themed cartoon sequence, but that is not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is that almost all of the kills are touched up with some pretty blatant computer generated gore. You wanna know the worst possible time to break immersion by making something look stupid? Right at the climax of the scene you’ve been setting up for five minutes. Look, most of them still look alright but for the most part I don’t expect people to walk away from this one talking about how realistic the deaths looked.
This is mostly a nitpick, but Death is starting to get real cheap on his physics. Where most of the deaths in the original movies were presumably possible if perhaps outlandish, some of these deaths are outright impossible. I don’t care what type of vehicle rear ends you, your truck’s engine is not going to fly out the front and brain somebody. Unless the invisible spectre of Death surgically loosened the engine block of your vehicle while you were sitting at that drive through that is just not happening. Similarly, literally no nail gun can shoot nails through a skull, through the brain, then through the other side of the skull. If you used that nail gun on your roof, it would fire those fuckers into the foundation of your basement.
Lastly, and this is more a criticism of the basic philosophy of how these movies are constructed, the film does lack staying power over time. I’ve seen this movie now probably 6 or 7 times (it’s my favorite of the franchise) and it’s remarkable how quickly the impact of the deaths diminish over time. When I first saw this movie in theaters I gasped when Lewis’ head was crushed. The scene was tense, I knew something was going to happen, I saw all of the various hazards, and then the false letdown caught me off-guard. Now, I watch it without that same tension purely because I know how the scene goes. If I could give myself amnesia I would love to go back and watch these, but as it stands I might have to wait a long time before I can rekindle the magic for this franchise.
Story: 2.5 - There really isn’t much here to discuss. There’s almost no story to talk about here. They try and inject a new component with the omniscient death-predicting camera, but that trope has been done before. Everything else is just copy-pasted from the original two.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - A pair of strong performances from the film’s lead actors go a long way on this one. Couple that with franchise deciding to take itself less seriously and lean into the full-on lunacy and baby you got a stew going.
Scare-Factor: 5.5 - The franchise lives and dies by the slow build of anticipation leading up to any of the characters’ deaths. If this is your first time I fully understand you arguing that this score might be higher. However, once you’ve heard the punchline to the joke as many times as I have, it starts to lose its luster a bit.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 3.5 - Firstly, this is certainly not qualifying of the judicious lack thereof moniker. There’s an odd mix of practical and cg effects at play through the whole movie. Apparently, the cast had to ride the coaster about 30 times in order to get the shots they needed for the opening sequence. But then if you watch the sequence it seems like a preposterous amount of it is CG’ed. My guess is they shot most things for reals, and then touched it all up in post. If that is correct, then they made a big mistake. Sorry, but the leaps and bounds that computer technology has made in the last decade means that CG just doesn’t age well.
Overall: 6 - As previously stated, this is not a movie to be taken seriously. Sit back, kick your feet up, crack a beverage of your choice, and enjoy this thing for the schlocky ride that it is. You’ll have fun.