Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

September 21, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Directed by: Wes Ball (“The Maze Runner”)
Written by: T.S. Nowlin (“The Maze Runner”)

It is annoying, yet understandable, when first installments of franchise-intended films solely serve as a set-up to the next. Fervor needs to be built, and what better way to do it than to give audiences just a taste of what’s to come. It’s when those sequels do just as much table setting, like we see in “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” where the seemingly everlasting trends of film franchises start to grow tired and insulting.

Following the events of last year’s “The Maze Runner,” Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of the Gladers find themselves in a facility where they are told they are being protected from an oppressive agency called WCKD. Witnessing suspcisious activities, Thomas discovers that kids are being harvested for their qualities of being immune to the Flare virus. Facing possible death, Thomas teams up with his friends to plot an escape. Once they get away, however, Thomas and his group are hunted in the increasingly unsafe ruins of “The Scorch.”

Somewhere around a third of the way in, “The Scorch Trials” takes a horror-esque turn, with zombie-like infected people becoming a major threat. Its weird detour into the undead is a left-field turn that doesn’t gel with anything happening on screen in the films first act and thus confuses the tone. At a certain point, it becomes unclear whether the film intends to be a “Hunger Games” style YA action film or an attempt at banking on the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” creating horror imagery appropriate for younger teens.

As “The Scorch Trials” trudges along, it becomes abundantly clear that not only nothing of consequence is going to happen, but that action and story beats are destined to repeat until the credits roll. The film features at least four or five separate sequences in which our characters are put in some kind of peril and narrowly escape. It’s a sign of poor and lazy construction, a feature also seen in its dealing with a character named Aris, played by Jacob Lofland, who is established early on an integral part of the story. After the 2nd or 3rd narrow escape (one loses count after a while), Lofland spends the rest of the film as a glorified extra with virtually no lines in more than the last hour and no consequence affecting the plot.

In terms of perpetuating the trend of dystopian young-adult films, “The Scorch Trials” adds virtually nothing to the mix. It’s repetitive, boring and truly amazing how few consequential moments there are, especially given its swollen run time of over two hours. Look for questions to finally be answered if this dull franchise keeps going into the new millennium.

The Maze Runner

September 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Kaya Scodelario
Directed by: Wes Ball (debut)
Written by: Noah Oppenheim (debut) and Grant Pierce Myers (debut) and T.S. Nowlin (debut)

In a post-apocalyptic society, what would be the logistics of building a massive mechanical maze with robotic sentries simply to test the mettle of teenage boys? Shouldn’t the razed cities be rebuilt? Wouldn’t that knowledge and manpower be better spent on ANYTHING else, really?  Hospitals, research laboratories, housing for the millions of refugees, a market for goods and services…the list goes on and on. But no, because “The Maze Runner” is based on yet another YA — that’s “young adult” — novel, the labyrinth is just another way for young people in this decimated world to prove their worth to the mysterious elders in charge of whatever society is left. See also: “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “The Giver,” to name a few.

“The Maze Runner” opens with a freight elevator clunking upward, filled with vague supplies and an amnesiac teenage boy (Dylan O’Brien). When the lift finally stops, the ceiling opens up to a walled-in garden area called the Glade with a group of even more teenage boys staring back at the new arrival. In time, the new guy remembers his name is Thomas, but nothing else. He’s introduced to the “Lord of the Flies”-ish society by their leader, Alby (Aml Ameen). The walls trapping the boys in the Glade are actually a massive maze. The doors open in the morning, allowing “runners” to explore the maze as much as they can, mapping  it, looking for an escape route,  before the doors close for the night. Danger lies in the ever-changing pathways and the vicious robo-spider guards known as Grievers who roam the maze killing anyone they come across. Thomas’ arrival signaled a shift, though, and the arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) a mere three days after Thomas seals the deal, marking the beginning of the end of life in the Glade. It’s time to find a way out of the maze…or die.

As a male in his mid-30s, I can’t pretend this movie is meant for me. I just don’t care what happens in this adventure. I can appreciate that, when it comes to YA novel adaptations, this is indeed a well-made movie with some nice special effects work and an interesting mystery to kick things off. However, when it all boils down to the final act, it becomes frustratingly clear that this journey was only the beginning, and the answers to the overarching questions lie in whatever sequels the box office take of this film warrant, which has become the calling card of this genre. Have fun in your maze, kids. Unless David Bowie and his massive codpiece lie at the end of it, I think I’m done.