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

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

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’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…