Sunday, September 20, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Someone do a cooking show parody of this called The Scotch Eggs Trials.

Maze Runner:  The Scorch Trials – 4 out of 5

Ever since college and since I’ve started writing this blog, I’ve become more open-minded to various types of films that, in years past, I would have passed by and declared them dumb without giving them a shot.  A younger me would have said all these tween novels about dystopian, post-apocalyptic environments and stories are “beneath me” because I’m not a tween but I’m now all about giving them their fare shake.  Granted, a lot of them I just couldn’t get into and it’s possible that my age plays a factor in that but, regardless, I just can't find the entertainment value in most of them; for example, The Mortal Instruments was just too paint-by-numbers and hit all the predictable marks you’d expect from a cliché tween novel adaptation, Divergent was a little cooler as far as its look goes but, at its core, felt no different than The Mortal Instruments and, even though I didn’t care for the first HungerGames film, I ended up becoming a fan when Catching Fire was put out (and yes, I didn’t care for the first half of Mockingjay but I’m excited as hell for the second part).  I had low expectations for The Maze Runner but found a film that was far more mature and a whole hell of a lot different than your run-of-the-mill tween dystopian story and really got into the movie.  I was actually really excited for The Scorch Trials and my expectations were met with this one!

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They're playing a very intense game of Red Rover and are waiting to come over.

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Awwww, look at the little Grievers.
Taking place directly after the first film, it opens with the survivors of the first film; Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Bodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Winston (Alexander Flores), being escorted to a large, fortified complex and being greeted by a mysterious man named Janson (Aiden Gillen).  He promises them protection from the organization that imprisoned them in the Maze; WCKD, but there's something just untrustworthy about him.  Thomas isn’t sold and another kid in the facility named Aris (Jacob Lofland) tells him not all is right and what the two end up discovering chills them to the bone and they flee the compound.  Outside, they discover the horror that is now the world and how it is infested with those infected with the Flare virus.  The group seeks to find an organization that call themselves The Right Arm; a small army that rescues the children who are put in the Mazes.  While being hunted by Janson and his goons, the group meets a man named Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and a young girl Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and, reluctantly, they agree to help them get to The Right Arm.  However, they soon realize that escape may be impossible as WCKD will stop at nothing to get them back and that there’s no one they can trust.

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I'm fairly certain they can trust this kid though...

After seeing this in the theater, I was shocked that the film has been getting mixed reviews from critics and seeing how they compare it to other tween films (something I am totally guilty of at the beginning).  Many have cited that it can’t compare but I can’t help but disagree with that one because the fact that it doesn’t follow the usual formula and takes a darker and far more mature route than the usual “This girl is the chosen one and she falls in love immediately with the man who is training her to live up to her chosen one status” instantly makes this film a franchise that I pay absurdly more attention to than anything else that’s been released in the last few years—hell,  I pay so much more attention to this franchise than other tween fic franchises that I didn’t even realize that the second Divergent film came and went through the theaters.

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There certainly is a lot of shots of them standing together.

The Scorch Trials lives up to its darker atmosphere it crafted in the first film and makes it even bigger as Thomas and the crew have to not only survive a world that is a burning wasteland but survive roaming hordes of zombie-like creatures that have fallen victim from the disease.  Sure, zombies might come off cliché but they’re big right now and, being that I’m a fan, I really liked this element and it may for some genuinely hair-raising and exciting sequences in the film. That is something this film does exceptionally well because the action sequences are incredible and really got my heart-pumping and never any two feel the same.

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Pointless Side Note:  I really wanted Dylan O'Brien to be considered to play the
new Spider-Man.

Once again, the cast in the film is very good and, this time around, we get some new characters that are not only instantly interesting and easy to invest in but played by great actors.  Heck, even this time around it seems that Dylan O’Brien got even better and is really falling into place of being the hero of the film and is living up to the role he has been given on the production.  While I didn’t hate his performance in the first film, I did think it wasn’t completely spectacular either—most of all, I felt it was serviceable for the type of film it was—but this time around I was floored by him.  This time I saw a young actor who really was embodying the hero he was cast in and made the character of Thomas not only a fantastic leader but a noble hero who is bearing the responsibility of protecting those around him and he is killing the role (to use a phrase that comedians use all the time when they bomb on stage).  Adding new actors like Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aiden Gillen and even surprise roles from Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper and Alan Tudyk was a welcome addition to the franchise and they all really helped bring this world to life and helped craft a sequel that was expanding beyond the wall of the original Maze.  And the fact that they were all doing their roles exceptionally well didn’t hurt at all either.

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Man, Gillen is just really good at playing deceptive and conniving characters.

The only factors that hurt the film were minor in my opinion.  One thing that stands out is the fact that a lot of the group isn’t developed very well and feels like background set dressing (or potential fillers for body bags).  Characters like Frypan, Winston, Aris, Janson and Teresa are often pushed into the background and only utilized as plot devices.  Another thing that stands out is the over-use of shaky cam during some action sequences.  One of the early scenes, when the group first comes in contact with the infected (called Cranks) in an abandoned mall, was a bit hard to watch as the sequence takes place in the dark and the shaky cam was so wild that I had a hard time seeing what the hell was going on.  This is a minor complaint because the rest of the action scenes were far clearer to witness.  Finally, the film does suffer from its long running time—clocking in at over two hours.  While longer running lengths aren’t necessarily a bad thing—the movie was actually only 18 minutes longer than the first one—being the second film in a trilogy means the film is already suffering from the “Where do we end so it’s satisfying but also leaves you hungry for more” factor.  A few times the film feels like it is going to hit the credits but it continues and I started to wonder where exactly are they going to end it.  This is obviously not a deal-breaker at all but it did give the film a slight feel that the director and production were like, “Let’s just go for 5 more minutes and give them one more scene.”

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Remember what I said earlier about how there's a lot of promotional photos of them
standing around?

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Hang around, guys!  Ha ha...I'm sorry for that one.
I was very entertained and very engaged with Maze Runner:  The Scorch Trials and, can honestly say, this is a franchise I am very much into.  The characters—when developed right—are interesting and easily people you can invest in and feel for, the action is very exciting, the score is grand and emotional, the acting is amazingly good, the world that is established keeps getting feathered out and is a super interesting one to learn about, it digs just deep enough into its mysterious mythos to give you some answers but kept enough of them unanswered to get me salivating for the final film and this one even has some genuinely scary moments with the Cranks.  This film could have easily been a throwaway sequel that is meant to just be a bridge between the opening and the finale but it had all the marks of a great middle film that sees the heroes on the next level of their journey only to make it seem like they’re going to lose it all but then, ultimately, refuse to give up hope.  This film is very much like The Empire Strikes Back (or any other great middle film in a trilogy) as you see Thomas and his friends' world has come crashing down around them but he won’t give up hope and will prevail like the hero he now knows he is.  Dammit, I really like this franchise!

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