Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saw 3D Mostly Hits, With One Big Miss

Saw 3D accomplishes exactly what it sets out to accomplish, no more, no less. For the supposed final movie in this franchise to be a success, it needs to tie up all the loose plot ends, give us great traps, and leave us with enough intriguing unanswered questions that we will now flood Lionsgate with requests for more and more movies. On the other hand, the movie misses one major detail that prevents me from calling this one of the better in the series. I'll touch on that after I'm done gushing.

The trap that opens the movie gives us the best indication of how the filmmakers want to end the series. Even though no other traps are as public as this opening, this sequence sets the tone that this film will be about a world where everyone knows the name Jigsaw. The movie then becomes about his legacy. At the end of Saw VI, we're left with two options to carry on John Kramer's work: his ex-wife Jill Tuck and Detective Mark Hoffman. Jill has never survived a trap, and it has been pretty clearly established that whoever picks up the torch should be a trap survivor. Saw VI was, to a large extent, about Jill putting Hoffman in a trap to make sure he passes a test before he can become the next Jigsaw. No matter what else happens, we all know Hoffman's just a psychopath with no intention of helping anyone. Saw 3D takes this fight head on, and wraps it up quite nicely.

Behind the scenes of the film, the studio had some legal dispute with Cary Elwes, who played Dr. Lawrence Gordon, the protagonist of the first Saw. I think the filmmakers really wanted the series to be about Dr. Gordon, but due to these outside problems, they had to settle for way too much time spent with police officers. Saw II, VI, V, and 3D all center around cops, and I feel like that's the only place they had to go without Dr. Gordon. This is why the end of Saw 3D is so exciting. We find out at the end that throughout the whole series, Gordon has been there helping Jigsaw. He really is the natural successor. Even though his lost his game, he survived by sheer will. Understanding one's own will to survive is the key to appreciating life. By taking out Jill and Hoffman and establishing Dr. Gordon as the next Jigsaw, the movie left us where it was supposed to.

While Saw 3D didn't have the best traps in the series, it definitely had the most. I give the filmmakers kudos for coming up with some truly ingenius and gruesome contraptions. We have a love triangle with table saws, a racist super-glued to a carseat, a married couple fight to the death over razor fans, and a fraud work his way through a death maze of his own deceit. As much as I wish the central game, which is so irrelevant to the series arc I won't go into detail, had more meaning, the quantity pretty well makes up for the quality. Nothing can compare to Saw IV's game, which took a cop, and us, through Jigsaw's indoctrination process, and in doing so brought the whole series together. Even Saw V, which I think was the second worst of the series, had a trap so deep in its meaning and purpose it almost makes you forget how bad the A-plot is. Saw 3D, though, had a lot of heavy lifting to do in the A-plot, so I can sort of forgive the eh factor of the traps.

At the end, the movie leaves us with some unanswered questions that make me want a Saw VIII and Saw IX. At the end of the movie, Gordon gets the drop on Hoffman with the help of two accomplices. Who are they? In a Saw movie, they can't just be faceless henchmen. Immediately after, Gordon chains Hoffman in the bathroom from the first film. He doesn't kill Hoffman, though. This is the same way Amanda leaves Matthews at the end of Saw II. Anyone who saw Saw III, knows all he has to do to survive is crush his own foot and slip it out of the chain, just like Detective Matthews. In Saw IV, we find out Jigsaw held Matthews hostage for six months. In that time, Hoffman must have found out how Matthews escaped. Did Gordon do this on purpose?

Something that mostly gets overlooked in the criticism of Jigsaw's traps is why the results are so inconsistent. The answer is Hoffman. In Saw VI, we find out that Hoffman threatened Amanda into shooting Lynn in Saw III. Lynn's husband Jeff, who has just gone through a game in order to learn the value of forgiveness, enters moments later and kills Amanda and Jigsaw. If Jeff was supposed to learn forgiveness, why did he kill them? In the last trap of his game, Jeff forgives the man who accidentally killed his son, which was supposed to save the man's life. It didn't. Jeff forgives the man, who dies anyway. In Saw V, we find out Hoffman was screwing with that last trap. Hoffman traps are just there to torture and kill people, not rehabilitate them.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the support group in Saw 3D. The girl who hacked off her own arm at the beginning of Saw VI is the only person not feeling the power of Jigsaw's message. Why? Her trap was designed and executed by Hoffman.

This is why I want Saw VIII. I want to see how well Dr. Gordon picks up the Jigsaw torch. At the end of that movie, reveal to us that Hoffman got free. Then Saw IX is a nice Hoffman vs. Gordon fight to death for control of Jigsaw's legacy. That's why this movie ruled. This supposed last film of the series made me want no less than TWO MORE Saw movies.

Overall, the movie does fall short. The main problem is how the movie treats Jill, Jigsaw's widow. Saw VI ends with Jill getting the drop on Hoffman, per her dead husband's instructions. When Hoffman survives, it seems pretty clear that Saw 3D should have been about Hoffman vs. Jill. The problem is the film totally underutilized Jill. They turned her into just a victim, as though the filmmakers couldn't understand a woman being a solid enough rival for Hoffman. It was pretty clear the whole movie was a big setup created by Hoffman, but I was waiting for it to turn out Jill was actually setting up Hoffman. Nope. She was just a poor, defenseless woman. It was such a missed opportunity, and for a franchise built on twists, it missed a chance for a huge one. This one detail puts Saw 3D on the lower end of the franchise.

For the record, my order is IV, I, VI, III, 3D, V, II (II sucked)

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