Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Maze Runner: Scorch Trials" is a Pleasant Surprise [Guest Poster: Jon]

I have never read any novels within James Dashner's Maze Runner trilogy. While the premise seemed interesting, they came across as yet another entry in the whole "dystopian future with teenagers" craze that’s become popular with books and films in the last few years.

That's why the first Maze Runner film was quite a surprise to me. While it is by no means perfect, the movie debuted as this new generation's version of Lord of the Flies mixed with a mysterious sense of a dystopian future. While I can not compare it to the book, as a standalone film, it was a fun B-movie popcorn flick. It's why I was finding myself actually excited when I sat down to watch Maze Runner: Scorch Trials.

Taking place immediately after the events of the first movie, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Theresa (Kayla Scodelario), and the remaining "Gladers" are whisked to a secret base in the middle of the desert, run by Janson (Aiden Gillen), a mysterious man who claims they will all be taken to a safer place. Thomas, not believing him, goes to investigate and discovers that Janson works for WCKD, the organization who forced the children to run through the maze. As it turns out, WCKD wants to harvest the children's blood, which makes them immune to the disease that turned most of humanity into ravenous monsters. Thomas alerts his fellow Gladers of this and, together, they make their escape from the base. Thomas and his friends must now work their way through "the Scorch" and find help before WCKD finds them.

Similar to the first movie, this latest installment pleasantly surprised me, as the film mostly did what a sequel is supposed to do: expand the world established from before, introduce new characters and plot threads well, and progress the characters' stories further along. The big issue with the film, however, lies within the area of character development. While Dylan O'Brien gives a great performance as Thomas, it feels as if his character really never progressed any further than when we left him in the previous movie. And while Thomas does become a leader in the sequel, we already saw this happen in the previous installment of the franchise. It felt as if Thomas had not really done anything big as a leader, only that he had everyone look to him. Of the whole cast, the one who gets any true character development is Scodelario’s Theresa. This film shows us a more conflicted Theresa, as she believes that WCKD could possibly help them all. The confusion and struggle to make a choice of what she should do gives her the strongest storyline and the payoff of what she ends up doing is more impactful because of it.

The sequel is surprisingly packed with a ton of well-known stars such as Giancarlo Esposito, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, and Aiden Gillen. Perhaps the best performances out of this group go to Esposito, Gillen, and Pepper. Esposito plays his character, a smuggler, with such relish that he steals every scene he's in. Pepper, on the other hand, manages to come across as stoic and hardened.

Gillen utilizes his snakelike charm that he’s well known for on Game of Thrones to great effect here. Janson first comes across as a kind father figure, a good Samaritan as it were, but when he then shows his true colors, Gillen finds joy and fun in unleashing the villainous side of this character.

On a visual level, the film feels much grander in scope than its successor. Now that they're out of the maze, returning director Wes Ball is able to create his own take on the world outside of the Glade. The imagery surrounding the characters is fascinating to look at, as you are able to see his own take on a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This results in some clever and well-executed ideas (the virus has turned everyone affected into ravenous monsters) as well as some fun action sequences.

Overall, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is a pleasant surprise throughout. While in no means a perfect film (indeed, the film does drag towards the end of the second act and the character development is a bit paper thin in some cases), the film is a fun, rollicking adventure that expands upon the world of the first film and showcases some great performances.

Each of these Maze Runner films keeps surprising me, so here's hoping the series goes out with a bang.



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