(On Cable TV, October 2018) Considering my extremely low opinion of the first two Maze Runner movies, I’m as surprised as anyone else to find out that third instalment The Death Cure is a bit of an improvement. It may be that the enforced delays in the production of the film (put on hold for a year when series star Dylan O’Brien suffered a serious accident while shooting) helped distinguish it from the spectacular crash of the dystopian YA subgenre that occurred in the meantime. It may also be that, contrarily to the recycled and lazy post-apocalyptic settings of the first two volumes, this one heads back to a high-tech megacity as a backdrop to its familiar thrills. No matter why, and I’m not trying to argue that it’s any better than an average action movie, The Death Cure feels a little bit more interesting and a little bit less exasperating than previous instalments. There’s an interesting ensemble supporting cast (Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter, etc.) stuck with the uninspired material and quite a bit of special effects work to keep things looking dynamic even when the story is dull. Plot-wise and sight-wise, there isn’t a lot in The Death Cure that hasn’t been done better elsewhere (the coincidences and contrivances get heavy at times), but it can be familiar comfort fare for, say, cyberpunk fans looking for a minor dose of the stuff. Director Wes Ball keeps things rolling, so at least there’s a bit of kinetic energy to the nonsense. If I thought too much about The Death Cure (and I don’t really care to), I’d point out the hideous hypocrisy of having the city, a last bastion of civilization, burn to the ground while our teenage heroes claim this as a victory … but that sort of thing is depressingly common in post-apocalyptic YA fiction where the span-of-consequences seems to stop at the teenage protagonists with nary a care for anyone else. “Better than the previous volumes” in this case doesn’t quite translate in an absolute recommendation.
(On Cable TV, June 2016) I’ve reached my limit on teenage dystopias a year ago, so it’s not a surprise if I find Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials to be both useless and dull. The moronic world building of the first film gallops further afar in nonsense here, with our teenage protagonists blindly flaying between murky opposing forces. They wander through the desert, the mountains and discover groups that seem to exist without any food or water sources but hey—as long as the chases-and-thrills structure is followed, nobody really cares. Despite the action sequences, though, The Scorch Trials is surprisingly dull: the thrills are derivative, most of the plot points mean nothing, the cast of characters is largely undistinguishable (and overwhelmingly male, especially in the first half of the film) and there’s a sense that the film is just wasting time before the third-movie conclusion. There is, to be fair, a few interesting post-apocalyptic visuals, especially when the group wanders in broken cities. It’s also sort-of-interesting to see a few Game of Thrones players pop up in minor roles, with Aidan Gillen nearly playing the same character in the same way. But not much of it amounts to any particular interest for The Scorch Trials. A quick Wikipedia check suggests that the plot of the book has been substantially altered, but given the inanity of the source material, it’s hard to count this as a failure of adaptation. Much like everyone else, I will reluctantly end up seeing the third movie when it comes out—but seeing the falling box-office results of the competing teenage dystopia series, it sure looks as if I’m not the only one who’s ready to put that subgenre out of its dreary misery.
(On Cable TV, September 2015) I’m currently burnt-out on dystopian young-adult science-fiction films, so forgive me if I’m not particularly enthusiastic about The Maze Runner. It does have an effective mystery at its core, as teenage boys find themselves stuck in the middle of a vast deadly maze and must learn how to get out. Conceptual breakthroughs ensue. Still, I can’t help but feel that much of the material feels intensely familiar, and that the answers hastily provided at the end are cheap and easy. It doesn’t help that there isn’t really a lot of plot in The Maze Runner, and that it’s stretched over what feels like a long time. Or that the film concludes with an infodump frantically advertising the next film of the series. Or that much of the background lore seems silly in a way that’s condescending to its younger audience. I don’t exactly dislike the film: it’s competently made, features a number of fine young actors, marks an auspicious debut for director Wes Ball, occasionally manages interesting images and does make for an intriguing preview of its sequel. But in the shadow of so many other similar series, The Maze Runner does seem deliberately manufactured for younger audiences, and I can’t help but wonder how long the multipart YA dystopia craze will last before we can move on to other things.