MOVIE MAN

‘Scorch Trials’ heats up Maze series

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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With “The Hunger Games” being the cinematic Young Adult gold standard (excluding the Harry Potter series, which belongs to another untouchable galaxy, and the insanely profitable Twilight films that folks can’t forget about fast enough), all others aimed at a teen audience seem to be piled up in a jumbled logjam.

In that cinematic series pile-up are “Insurgent” and “The Maze Runner.” They aren’t terrible but aren’t near the quality of The Hunger Games movies, however.

ABOUT THE FILM

The first “Maze Runner” (2014, Movie Man No. 1105, a 6) had its moments but was hardly memorable (just like most young adult adaptations).

While the original didn’t light up the box office, it made $102.4 million, enough to green light, “The Scorch Trials,” the second of three movies.

While some one-shot YAs performed OK – “The Fault in Our Stars,” the great “Hugo” (2011, MM No. 959, 9, Best of Year) – hopes for big money from YA series faltered quickly when some well-read books croaked at the box office.

THE PLOT (SPOILERS)

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his cohorts that escaped with him from the maze are now being taken care of by a mysterious group, WCKD, led by Janson (Aidan Gillen). When Aria (Jacob Lofland), a weird loner, contacts O’Brien, they discover a secret that makes the core group try to escape.

They flee into the “Scorch” – a wasteland where the real world has been decimated. The group trudges from a devastating cityscape into a barren desert, heading to distant mountains where a revolutionary group may or may not be hiding.

Along the way, the Gladers – O’Brien and his wanderers – must fight off ravenous mutants called Cranks, fast-moving vampire/zombies that pass on their infection through bites.

Just shy of the mountains, the O’Brien group staggers to refuge in a bunker run by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). The group finds the revolutionaries, but a betrayal leads Gillen and the rest of the WCKD to the secret location – where it goes very badly for everyone.

Only a few good guys remain free, and in the conclusion of the movie that sets up the series finale, they decide to head back to the near-impenetrable WCKD headquarters to rescue their buddies.

WHAT WORKS (SPOILER)

In the lead, O’Brien is very good. He’s athletic and carries the movie.

Gillen and Esposito are also exceptional in pivotal roles.

Another plus is the solid direction by Wes Ball. He helmed the first one and will end the series as the director, too. Having the same guiding hand all the way along is rare for a movie series, and it helps Maze Runner.

The Cranks are creepy, roaring out of the dark with black gook flowing from their mouths. They are relentless and wreak some havoc.

BEST SCENE (SPOILER)

O’Brien and Salazar are seeking a mysterious underworld figure when they come upon a party in a ratty city. Blondie (the great Alan Tudyk) decides who gets entry beyond the tent flap to the shindig inside, but he insists they drink a queer colored liquid to pass. O’Brien hesitates; Salazar chugs it. Then so does O’Brien.

Inside, the party is a demented, drug-fueled miasma of writhing bodies and numbed dancers. Doped up, too, O’Brien begins losing his touch on reality and flashing back to disconcerting events from his childhood.

It’s a PG-13 version of that crazy scene in “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) – unsettling and eerie.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

If you had a dollar every time someone says “run!” in this movie, you’d get the cost of admission back in about 20 minutes. It would make a serious drinking game.

Along with all that running is jittery camera work that gets old fast.

The new characters don’t get much of an introduction, especially Vince (Barry Pepper), a revolutionary leader.

The ending is a mess. If WCKD has all that amazing flying firepower, it’s hard to believe they couldn’t find the revolutionaries. And the following firefight is confusing and poorly done.

THE RATING

While the Movie Man was perturbed that someone had brought a 3-year-old girl to such a film, the PG-13 is OK with its mild language, action and mild gore. But those monsters push toward the far end of PG-13, especially with a little girl in attendance.

SUMMING UP

The Movie Man will head to the third movie, “The Death Cure,” in a couple of years. The Maze Runner movies aren’t home runs, but they’re solid doubles. That’s better than you usually get with YA.

NEXT UP

“Hotel Transylvania 2”

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