Friday, September 25, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

1.5/4

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Jacob Lofland, Kaya Scolodero, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Aiden Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Espisito

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence and Action, Some Thematic Elements, Substance Use, and Language

Typically if it's longer than a day or two between when I see the movie and when I can get to a computer, I skip the review.  But I decided to review this movie despite the fact that it's been a week since I've seen it for two reasons: one, I remember full well exactly what I was going to write, and two, I need a review for when I compile my Bottom Ten list this year, as this stinker will surely be on it.

"The Maze Runner" is yet another sci-fi/fantasy (both genres are okay for Hollywood these days) book series that's being turned into a movie franchise.  While not as financially successful as "Twilight" or "The Hunger Games," last year's starter was a respectable effort (for my money, it was more entertaining than either, although I prefer the "Divergent" series).  This sequel reminds us of a time when the word sequel was synonymous with the term "cashing in."  Granted, it still is, but presently franchises are planned out before there's even an underlying idea.

Thomas (O'Brien) and his friends have escaped the maze that was the setting for the first film.  Now free, they are being cared for by Janson (Gillen), who claims to have their best interests at heart.  Of course, Thomas quickly realizes that this is not the case, and with the help of Aris (Lofland), they escape into The Scorch, a desolate landscape straight out of "Mad Max Fury Road," although instead of religious fanatics they find Cranks (read: zombies). There, they team up with Brenda (Salazar) and Jorge (Espisito), who agrees to take them to the Right Arm, a group of underdogs who are resisting WCKD, which is led by Dr. Paige (Clarkson).

The first hour of this movie is representative of everything that is bad about movies these days: lots of special effects (some of which are admittedly impressive), photogeneic but untalented actors, and where plot and dialogue are reduced to grunts and one word shouts.  Michael Bay, eat your heart out.  The rest of it contains flat acting and bad storytelling.

The performances leave something to be desired.  Dylan O'Brien, who was effective in the first one, seems flat here (I blame the script).  Unfortunately, he's the best of those who have more than token screen time.  No one has much to do, and those that do, like Salazar and Scolodero (no young adult franchise can be devoid of romance, apparently), are awful.  Legitimate actors like Patricia Clarkson, Aiden Gillen, Alan Tudyk, Lili Taylor and Barry Pepper appear occasionally, but none have much screen time...they're here to pick up a hopefully healthy paycheck so they can go back to making movies they actually want to be in.

"Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" picks up in its final act.  There's some dramatic tension as WCKD closes in and the final battle is nicely staged.  Unfortunately, its almost completely arbitrary and contrived.  It also has some obvious lapses in logic, such as how stun rounds can suddenly turn lethal (I'll concede that they can in real life, but this is a teen movie, so such details are usually overlooked).

It's not totally unwatchable.  There are some nice visuals, a decent shock or two, and Alan Tudyk is always fun to watch (here, he's playing a sleazy, campy drug lord or sorts).  Still, unless you're a die-hard fan of the franchise and have very low expectations, skip it.

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