Sunday, September 20, 2015

'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials' review

After dominating Hollywood for years, it seems that the young adult genre may finally be riding off into the sunset. The Hunger Games series wraps up this year, Twilight is long gone and Divergent only has a couple movies left in the tank. Most of the other YA films have fallen flat, but one film that did manage to catch on was last year's The Maze Runner. Its $340 million worldwide total meant that Fox pushed to get the other two films in the franchise out as fast as possible, and because of that, we now have chapter two, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, only one year later. And while it will surely rake in a healthy profit for Fox, it further hints to the downfall of the YA adaptation. Because just like Insurgent, Paper Towns, and some other recent films, The Scorch Trials is dull, tedious, uninteresting, soulless, repetitive, murky, moronic and simply, a whole mess of nothing. Despite being familiar with the source material, I had no idea what was going on, why it was going on and most importantly, why I should care. The Scorch Trials is simply a terrible movie and a big disappointment after a solid first entry into the franchise.

The Scorch Trials picks up pretty much right where The Maze Runner left off- the Gladers, led by Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), have escaped from the Maze and now live in a bizarre facility operated by the mysterious Janson (Aidan Gillen). Once Thomas begins to suspect something sinister thanks to the help of Aris (Jacob Lofland), he orchestrates a prison break of sorts. Thomas seeks a group of people in the mountains that will protect them from WICKD, the organization that put them in the Maze. But once they find themselves stuck in the Scorch, the Gladers will realize that their toughest task is ahead of them. The Scorch is an unforgiving landscape, filled with Cranks (zombie-like creatures that attack without provocation) and gangsters, all while WICKD is still following their every move. Through their ordeal in the Scorch, Thomas will have to find a way to unite the Gladers and the others in the Scorch against WICKD and prevent them from orchestrating their reign of terror.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a movie that is so lifeless and boring that I feel like I'm wasting my time. Every word that I write in this review is a word that could be put to better use, better than telling you that The Scorch Trials sucks. Because it does. The first 20 minutes hold the intrigue of the first film, and the final sequence works too, but the other 90 minutes in between are stunningly uninteresting. None of the characters are developed, their motivations are completely up in the air, and to be honest, I didn't really care or like any of them. Character actors like Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito and Aiden Gillen give it their all, but there's no getting around the emptiness of this film.

Let's talk plot. I find it hard to say that The Scorch Trials has one, at least one that really works at all. The basic idea behind it seems to be "Hmm, something is up with these WICKD people. Let's go run around the Scorch to avoid being used for an antidote that will save THE ENTIRE HUMAN RACE." Maybe I'm missing a key plot point or something, but from what I remember, the heart of the book series was the moral dilemma behind using the minds of a generation of children to find the cure for a disease. Was that ethical? Was that something worth doing? Is WICKD truly good, as they claim to be?

The film series is so much more shallow. There's a bit of moral conflict thrown in there every once in a while, especially towards the end, y'know, the good part of the movie. But for about 80% of the film, it's a sterile, soulless, bland trip through a CGI landscape that doesn't feel palpable in any way, with characters that we don't care about, on a quest we don't care about, moving from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on, in the most tiresome and rote way possible. I don't think I've ever heard the words "Go! Go! GO!" or "We gotta move! Let's run!" used so many times in any other movie. The concept and direction of the action scenes is fine. Wes Ball is a perfectly solid director and when he has the screenplay content to work with, he's able to do some pretty solid stuff. But the rest of the time, he has no good material and that's problematic for any director.

The main characters don't do much to add intrigue. Dylan O'Brien is a perfectly fine actor, but his character is the most static, flat protagonist I've ever seen in a young adult adaptation. Thomas has not changed in the slightest from the moment that he arrived in the maze. He starts off as a leader, he progresses as a leader and at the end of this film, he's still a leader. It would have been cool if Thomas had been a really timid person at first, with a lot of bad stuff thrust on him that makes him change, but that didn't happen. We have a protagonist who isn't compelling in the slightest, so what about the rest of the cast? They're not much better. Minho, Newt, Frypan and Winston are merely stand-ins who work as people for Thomas to run around with, as they have nearly no character development. The only character that changes in the slightest is Kaya Scodelario's Teresa and her change is abrupt, unwarranted and straight-up silly.

The supporting adult actors bring a bit of dignity to the project, but at a certain point, even they can't save it. Patricia Clarkson, Alan Tudyk, Gillen, Esposito, Pepper- all of them are actually pretty fantastic in their roles. Clarkson and Gillen work well as the mustache-twirling villains, Esposito and Tudyk bring the comic relief and Pepper works well as the military guy. I will say this- The Maze Runner does have one of the more impressive supporting casts in a recent YA adaptation, certainly better than Twilight or the Divergent series. Not quite on the Hunger Games or Harry Potter level, but all of the adult actors work surprisingly well.

But there's simply no getting around the pure tedium of this film. The number of times I checked my watch was sky-high, and the non-stop, breathless action with no real purpose in mind did nothing to curb my boredom. Most of the action takes place in generic settings- warehouses, abandoned buildings, underground bunkers- and none of it feels real. The Maze Runner was a promising start for a new franchise, but The Scorch Trials proves that it was a fluke. Chalk this up as the second big dystopian disappointment of the year, after Insurgent failed to do anything in March. Audiences are tiring of this material, and I think that the creative forces behind it are drained as well. It's a crushing disappointment for any fan of the source material, but considering the recent track record of these types of films, it's nothing surprising.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D+                                           (4.7/10)

Image Credits: Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Screen Rant, Forbes

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