19 sept. 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (5/10): A slight improvement over the first Runner

“You think I have a bloody clue? Bunch of crazies want to eat us for breakfast, by the looks of it.”

Director Wes Ball is back for this second installment of novelist James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy. This author’s books have been a success with young adults, and the first adaptation by Ball was received well by most critics. I had a very different experience from them however since I found the first film a much weaker entry to the already overexposed genre of YA novel adaptations. From the moment we were introduced to Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was simply a male version of Katniss from The Hunger Games or Tris from the Divergent series. An outsider who has trouble fitting in to an established group but eventually becomes a leader thanks to his unique personality traits. We get it, being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve all went through an identity crisis as teens and I guess that is why the premise is so appealing. The refreshing difference that this YA adaptation has with the others is that it avoids the romantic elements that seem to emerge from all these films. This is a more action packed film, but at the same time it suffers from a lack of character development. 

The story has several flaws and it’s hard to follow at times considering I honestly couldn’t remember much of what had happened in the first film. All I could remember was that a group of kids managed to escape from the maze only to discover that the world around them had changed. And this second film picks up from there as we follow the young survivors through this dystopian world being chased by an organization who believes that they are the key to saving humanity. The kids themselves don’t understand what is going on and they have to discover it along the way without knowing who they can trust. And that cluelessness is transferred to the audience while we get some answers along the way. The problem is I’m afraid that by the time the third film comes out we will have forgotten much of what was going on and enter the movie scratching our heads like I did this one. All we will remember are some of the action sequences that took place, but I still have no clue why these characters were even put in the maze in the first place (not sure if they already answered it in the first film or it remains an enigma to be solved in the third). It may be necessary to revisit the franchise by the time the final film is released because the plot was a bit convoluted and many questions remained unanswered. 

I don’t want to be too critical of this film because I did think it was an improvement over the first one. I found it a better sequel than Insurgent was despite sharing some of the same flaws. The film does seem to distance itself from what it did in the first film becoming more of an action adventure film than a YA adaptation (although one could argue that it seems to be heading towards a very similar direction as the latest Hunger Games sequel). The action scenes do feel very familiar to other films and there is especially one moment where Jurassic Park: The Lost World will come to everyone’s mind. It also feels very much like an episode from The Walking Dead with the introduction of some zombie like beings known as cranks. There is a decent twist during the climactic scene, but by the time we get to it we’ve been overexposed to the convoluted action scenes (and not in a good Mad Max Fury Road kind of way). The pacing of this film is very much an issue and if they’d edited out at least some 20 minutes of the film it could’ve been much more engaging.

The cast is pretty solid and Dylan O’Brien turns in a charismatic lead performance, but the issue here is that these characters aren’t developed at all and the action scenes seem to take center stage. There is no time to dwell on the characters because we are headed into new action sets every five minutes while new questions emerge. Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, and Alexander Flores are all back as the surviving members of the maze. Neither of them have much to do in this film, especially Scodelario who doesn’t seem to have any personality whatsoever. There are several new characters as well. Jacob Lofland joins the runaway kids as Aris, another survivor from a different maze. The kids finds shelter for a short chunk of the film with a group of survivalists led by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito who you will easily recognize for his role as Gus in Breaking Bad) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). Patricia Clarkson is back once again as the leader of the WCKD organization that is after the kids, and in this sequel we are introduced to her right hand man, Janson (Aidan Gillen from Game of Thrones). The new additions elevated the film as I found these new characters much more appealing than the previous returnees. Esposito being my favorite addition, and he should be involved in more movies because he’s such a talented actor. Despite the new additions I did find the action scenes a bit tiresome. There is one scene where Thomas states he’s tired of running, and it perfectly summed up how I was feeling. The open endings are also a problem with this franchise as you don’t get any closure and are forced to wait for the next film to find answers.      

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