Does it really matter if I say Final Destination 5 is the best film in the series since the original? Although I know a lot of people that would at least agree the first film was an above-average twist on the slasher genre, once the sequels started and all followed the exact same formula, it became a decidedly divisive franchise – if you saw one of the sequels and liked it, you were probably going to like the rest of them, but if you were done with the series after the first film (or didn’t even like that one), then it’s not like any new installment has much of a chance of winning you over.

But, what the hell, I AM one of those who has seen and more-or-less enjoyed all of the films (though the fourth one was a bit rough), and so I AM here to tell you this is easily the most entertaining sequel yet, and it’s actually thanks to a couple new twists in the formula. That’s right, it took them four sequels to do it, but the filmmakers finally realized you can expand on the mythology a little bit and throw in some new ideas to liven things up.

Don’t get me wrong, the basic concept is, of course, still intact. A young man has a vision of a horrific accident that is about to happen – in this case a bridge collapse – and manages to therefore save a group of people before said tragedy occurs, thus incurring the wrath of death itself, which doesn’t like to be cheated. Soon, the survivors are dying one by one in incredibly elaborate and gory ways, in the same order they died in the hero’s vision. In that regard, this movie is EXACTLY like the others.

But there are at least two new wrinkles here, one being a federal agent investigating the group, convinced the hero’s claims of a vision are nonsense and that one of the kids must have had something to do with the bridge disaster and the subsequent deaths. The other new idea is the more substantial and intriguing of the two, though. Tony Todd returns as the same mysterious coroner character he played in the first two films, and this time reveals to the group that if they kill someone, death will take that person in their place and skip over them, thus saving their lives. It’s actually not played with as much as I initially thought it would be when I first heard them mention it in the trailer, but it IS a large part of the film’s third act, and does add a much-welcomed extra level of tension to the climax. If there are any further installments, it’s an idea that deserves to be expanded on.

The other good thing about this installment is the casting, which is especially notable coming off the terrible actors playing nothing characters in the last movie. I actually liked the group in this film – they’re all likable (well, except for the one douche-bag who isn’t supposed to be, but then that’s his role and he’s hilarious in it), and actually feel like real people. Again, that might seem like a minor compliment, but it’s still a nice touch after the last movie, which felt like the makers were so obsessed with the death scenes that they forgot to give us people we actually want to watch for 90 minutes. (Quick note – co-star Miles Fisher parodied Tom Cruise in Superhero Movie, a scene which became a viral hit online, but after seeing this movie I am now convinced this guy was actually cloned from Cruise’s hair or something – it’s frighteningly uncanny.)

As for those death scenes, they’re all pretty awesome here, which is again an improvement over the lazy “let’s just drop stuff on people” mentality of part four. The Final Destination universe continues to be a ridiculous perilous one, where no screws have been fastened in all the way and electrical wires are always placed much too close to water, but still, that’s all part of the fun, and this one in particular is pretty masterful at creating the tension of waiting for what’s coming – one moment, where a gymnast’s bare feet keeps dancing around am upturned screw, pretty much symbolizes the series. And when the deaths finally happen, they’re enjoyably brutal AND over-the-top.

Finally, it must be said that Final Destination 5 has, without a doubt, the best ending of the series yet. It’s a surprise that I’m glad I never had ruined for me, so I won’t spoil it here – suffice to say it will please fans of the series.

So, yes, I’m recommending Final Destination 5, but only to those who already know they enjoy this sort of thing. It’s a great bounce back from the diminishing returns of the last film, and suggests that there might just be some life left in this franchise yet, as long as they’re willing to keep playing with the new ideas introduced in this one. Oh, and yes, I also recommend you DO shell out the extra couple bucks for the 3D version – movies like these are one of the best at taking advantage of the gimmick and playing it for what it’s worth (and director Steven Quale was actually Cameron’s second unit director on Avatar, so he knows how to use the technology). There are a couple really fun gags, and the opening credit sequence in particular is pretty damn awesome in 3D.



This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on August 17th, 2011.