Friday, September 25, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trial

The Maze Runner hit theaters last year and I was so intrigued by the trailer I read the whole book trilogy upon which it is based before the movie came out. I maintain that the books are somewhat underwhelming overall, but The Maze Runner and its sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) did a better job telling the story than the books did. However, that doesn't necessarily mean The Scorch Trials was a good movie.
After surviving the maze and being transported to a remote fortified outpost, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow teenage Gladers find themselves in trouble after uncovering a diabolical plot from the mysterious and powerful organization WCKD. With help from a new ally, Aris (Jacob Lofland), the Gladers stage a daring escape into The Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with dangerous obstacles and crawling with the zombie-like virus-infected Cranks. The Gladers' only hope may be to find the Right Arm, a group of resistance fighters who can help them battle WCKD.
So, maybe it's just been awhile since I read the book, but The Scorch Trials are very different from what I remember the book being like. There are some significant changes as the book transitions into a movie. Dedicated fans of the books will be left scratching their heads at the many changes. But the changes are respectable. Director Wes Ball has borrowed one trope after another from superior post-apocalyptic tales for an amusing but overall hollow narrative that moves at a brisk pace. The changes to the movie end up telling a better and more concise story than the book upon which it is based. I became less invested in the books as I went on, but the movie kept me engaged for the most part.
The Scorch Trials relies on the assumption that you have seen The Maze Runner; if you start with this movie, you'll be totally lost. Main characters who are returning from the previous movie are already established. Thomas is able to evolve and develop a bit more. Instead of a brave "new guy" cliche, this storyline answers what makes Thomas such a capable and compassionate leader.  If you were left pining for answers after The Maze Runner's climactic cliffhanger, you'll find The Scorch Trials add some much appreciated context for the Gladers' former association with WCKD, which paints a much clearer picture of why Thomas is a hero both in the maze of the first movie and out in the real world in this movie.
Unfortunately, as O'Brian steps into the spotlight, the remainder of The Scorch Trials cast gets sidelined. Minjo (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie Sangster), and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are reduced to expository soundingboards for Thomas and other dialogue-heavy characters rather than capable heroes who possess individual skills necessary to the group's survival. Fan-favorite Minho gets a few moments to shine but, like the majority of The Scorch Trials characters, most often he's simply looking to Thomas to call the next shot.
There is a generous amount of CGI used to make the post-apocalyptic world seem more real, but the actual physical sets used were most impressive. There is a scene in which two of our heroes are trying to escape some Cranks by climbing up the stairwell of a decrepit building which has toppled over into an adjacent building. The stairwell is at a highly inconvenient steep diagonal which forces our heroes to be creative while escaping from the crazed virus monsters. This was done with physical sets and left the actors with little wiggle room, which in turn generated some creative camera work.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is packed with thin outlines and surface-level drama, however it maintains a semi-successful bar of intriguing movie escapism set by The Maze Runner. Fans who enjoyed the first film have a good reason to continue with the movie franchise, as it boasts some good camera work, great effects, and some decent action scenes. I jumped several times, during some particularly tense scenes. The movie lacks character depth (outside of Thomas), features an uninspiring storyline, and hasn't elevated itself to a platform for insight into the human condition (i.e. The Hunger Games theme of self-determination versus totalitarianism). As was the case with the previous installment, It's a decent popcorn flick, but unless you really value the big screen experience, it's a renter.

I understand that the third book in The Maze Runner Trilogy, The Death Cure will not be broken up into a two-part movie as has so frequently been done with Young Adult novels made into movies. Some of the Young Adult novels that have divided the last book into two movies had so little happening in the book that two movies were unjustified. Thank Goodness The Maze Runner isn't doing this! The final movie, The Death Cure is due out February 2017.

What's the best YA novel to transition to a movie in your opinion? Comment below and tell me why!

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