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…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

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…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

It does work, you know. The fire, the wooden stakes, the sunlight. I’ve got a list right here, somewhere.

Vamp (1986)
(SPOILERS) My affection for Vamp is only partly based on the adorability therein of Dedee Pfeiffer, in what might be the closest she’s come to a starring role. Ostensibly an entry in the resurgent vampire-comedy genre (Fright Night, The Lost Boys), Vamp actually slots more effortlessly into another ‘80s subgenre: the urban nightmare comedy. We’d already had Scorsese’s masterful After Hours and John Landis’ knockabout Into the Night, and writer Richard Wenk’s big screen directorial debut shows a similar knack for throwing its protagonists in at the deep end, up against an unfamiliar and unfriendly milieu.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…