Sequels are notorious for being sub-par when compared to their predecessors, and horror movie sequels in particular contribute more than their fair share to the stereotype. Final Destination 2, sporting a trailer that seemed to mindlessly rehash the original, looked as though it was going to be one such ill-conceived follow-up. But surprisingly, it's not that bad, especially for fans of the first Final Destination.
In the 2000 original, a group of students on a senior trip disembarked a plane just before takeoff when one of them had an intense premonition of doom. Subsequently, the plane exploded, killing all aboard. Having cheated death, the group's last-minute deboarding disrupted a sort of master plan of the universe. To correct this, death, personified as a pseudo-conscious force, hunted them down to finish its job of putting them into early graves.
Now, on the one year anniversary of that fateful Flight 180, only a single individual remains alive in the wake of death's relentless drive to tie up all the loose ends: the placidly named Clear Rivers (Ali Larter). Voluntarily locked away in a padded cell, Clear has retreated from the rest of the world for fear that death is still out to get her. But when a shaken Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) visits her in the looney bin one day, she realizes her ordeal is not over.
Kimberly claims to have had a premonition that allowed her and a group of strangers to avoid a lethal highway accident that would have otherwise killed them all. But now the survivors of the incident seem to be suffering from the same predicament as the survivors of Flight 180: a quick death is apparently coming for them one by one. With her experience in resisting death's design, Clear reluctantly tries to help Kimberly in the hope that they can all decisively cheat the Reaper and live long lives.
While watching the original isn't necessary to enjoy the sequel, it certainly contributes to a deeper appreciation of the pair of films overall. Part two doesn't just repeat the premise and scenes of part one--it intricately links to its predecessor with impressive continuity and offers a legitimate reason for why death comes a-knockin' once more. Characters and circumstances from the original end up having direct ties to the seemingly random characters of the sequel. In many ways, Final Destination 2 also patches up some of the weaker points of the original as it demonstrates death's persistence and shows that one cannot cheat fate forever. It's not often a horror sequel actually helps the movie that inspired it.
The other highlight of Final Destination 2 is its sheer violence. People don't just die--they get fricken smashed to bits. While jittery scenes like a fool sticking his hand into a garbage disposal provide tension, it's really the over-the-top gore that steals the spotlight. Victims are pulverized, impaled, and sliced to hell with such wicked brutality that it's almost funny. A ludicrously intricate chain reaction pile-up borders on comical.
But what this movie has in continuity and violence, it lacks in logical coherency. Like the original, it won't make a lot of sense to those who dissect the details. Even in the context of fictional horror, the story is full of holes, contradictions, and outright nonsense. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, and this is one flick that readily stretches such boundaries.
Final Destination 2 lacks the foreboding mood of the first installment. Most of the scenes are shot in broad daylight, a disappointing contrast to the original's preference for night. And when it comes to signs of doom, the sequel is considerably less subtle. For example, whereas the first Final Destination used John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as an appropriate and significant harbinger of death, part two features AC/DC screeching "Highway to Hell," a selection that is downright stupid in its obviousness and superficiality.
The survivors of the highway accident aren't nearly as likeable as the survivors of Flight 180. Most of them are morons or jerks, making it difficult to care about their struggle with death. Of the new characters, only A.J. Cook's Kimberly elicits the slightest bit of sympathy. Tony Todd reprises his role as creepy mortician William Bludworth, but it's hardly necessary. While he added a certain mood to the mix the first time around, his appearance here seems forced. His explanation that only new life can defeat death is both vague and randomly contrived. And if the advice is so critical, why didn't he dish it out long ago?
Ali Later clearly rules this movie. While everyone else is merely a hastily assembled caricature without depth, her character of Clear has a well defined background and history thanks to her appearance in the first film. Final Destination fans will see her as the heroic franchise veteran. Plus, she's got this college woman thing going on now. Although Clear isn't supposed to be much older than Kimberly, she brings that certain vibe of the "experienced older girl" who teaches the younger girl a thing or two about a thing or two--and that's a classic idea that fits well with all sorts of genres, if you know what I mean.
Final Destination 2 fixes some of the flaws of the original, but ends up replacing them with new shortcomings. Still, the central premise of a stalking death remains interesting, and there is enough eye-popping violence to keep the pace brisk. It's definitely worth a watch for fans of the original, if only to find out Clear's ultimate fate.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)