Skip to main content

You kids wouldn't last one day out in the Scorch.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
(2015)

(SPOILERS) No mazes, amazingly, but this is a superior sequel to the original in most respects, relieved as it is of a daffy ending and further showcasing Wes Ball’s confident accession to the status of first-rate action director. He’s so good at engaging with a raft of set pieces – even those replete with wanton, rampant CGI zombies, surely a no-no since I am Legend, shurely – that there’s little time to pause and debate whether Maze Runner: Scorch Trials makes any sense, and observe how the performances are mostly so-so and the dialogue on the crummy side. As such, it’s easily the most entertaining of last year’s YAs.


Which are currently dwindling in confidence and stature, what with the decision to split the last Divergence in two leading to audiences not falling for that again, and Maze Runner 3: The Death Cure delayed until 2018 while lead Dylan O’Brien recovers from his nasty onset accident.


Shorn of the need to dwell on the unlikely (to say the least) reveal of the last movie, that the vital subjects of the experiment, immune to the Flare virus, are essentially cannon fodder, Ball and TS Nowlin (adapting all three of James Dashner’s novels; quite possibly it won’t get to the stage of prequel making, or Fox will opt for a TV spin-off at that point) can instead indulge one long chase.


First the kids are locked up by Aiden Gillen’s Janson, looking as disreputable as he always does, while whistling a vague register of blarney under his breath as he searches out inscrutable vowels by contorting his mouth in various unlikely directions. Not for long, though, as they soon bust out, having discovered a Coma-type facility in a secured wing, full of hanging bodies being used for dastardly plans. The truth, shockingly, is that they weren’t rescued at all; they’re still part of WCKD’s plot!


Escaping into the post-apocalyptic Scorch, the intrepid youngsters encounter a suitably derelict environment, host to a succession of sand and ruined cities. And dark tunnels filled with zombie Crank hoards. This is a piecemeal affair, loosely strung together by sporadic encounters with those who may or may not help our heroes, but Ball ensures it motors along like it has real purpose.


Helping matters are a couple of new additions to the cast in the form of Giancarlo Esposito and Rose Salazar (also of Divergent: Insurgent), the latter particularly making an impression where most of the original cast besides O’Brien are given little to do (Thomas Brodie-Sangster is almost irrelevant). There’s also Barry Pepper, evidently relieved that Battlefield Earth didn’t completely kibosh his prospects for appearing in further science fiction movies. Best of the bunch is Alan Tudyk as a preening night club owner luring young innocents, stoking them full of drugs, and then sending them back to WKD.


Ball does an especially blinding job during an extended sequence in a ruined San Francisco, as Thomas and Brenda first encounter zombies erupting from floors and walls, then peg it up an alarmingly listing building, with the hungry ones in hot pursuit, culminating in a show-stopping homage to The Lost World’s breaking glass window (for another such homage, see The Secret Life of Pets). The demands of a really awkward capture-rescue climax, which opts for the old “driving into the midst of the enemy and turning the tables” chestnut as if it was ever a really satisfying solution, rather confound him, but that’s hardly his fault; he’s doing his damnedest.


As for the reveal of Teresa’s (Kaya Scoledario) complicity, it might have been more tactfully disguised, rather than cutting to her looking furtively guilty or fretful throughout. What can she have done? This is one of those series where no doubt all will be forgiven, or atoned for, despite Brenda being a much better bet for the very in-demand Thomas. Whose rousing speech at the end isn’t all that, but provides sufficient motivation to return to the lion’s den and rescue his captured pals. The question is whether the extended interim between Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure will whet appetites or prove just that bit too long for those who currently care. It may have worked for Furious 7, but this isn’t that.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

Romulan ale should be illegal.

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

By Jove, the natives are restless tonight.

The Avengers 4.17: Small Game for Big Hunters
I wonder if Death at Bargain Prices’ camping scene, suggestive of an exotic clime but based in a department store, was an inspiration for Small Game For Big Hunters’ more protracted excursion to the African country of Kalaya… in Hertfordshire. Gerry O’Hara, in his second of two episodes for the show again delivers on the atmosphere, making the most of Philip Levene’s teleplay.

Two hundred thousand pounds, for this outstanding example of British pulchritude and learning.

The Avengers 4.18: The Girl From Auntie
I’ve mentioned that a few of these episodes have changed in my appreciation since I last watched the series, and The Girl from Auntie constitutes a very pronounced uptick. Indeed, I don’t know how I failed to rate highly the estimable Liz Fraser filling in for Diana Rigg – mostly absent, on holiday –for the proceedings (taking a not dissimilar amateur impostor-cum-sidekick role to Fenella Fielding in the earlier The Charmers). I could watch Fraser all day, and it’s only a shame this was her single appearance in the show.

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Blake's 7 3.7: Children of Auron

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …