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Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials ••

Maze-Runner-The-Scorch-Trials-PosterStarring:Dylan O’BrienKaya ScodelarioWill Poulter
Director:Wes Ball
Screenplay:Noah OppenheimGrant Pierce Myers
Action/Mystery/Science-Fiction, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: September 19, 2015


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Scott, I feel like a rat trapped in a maze.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

And I feel like I’ve been scorched at the box office. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to young Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who has recently been rescued from WCKD (pronounced “Wicked”) – an evil organization who trapped him in a deadly maze. They were lab rats with immunity to the Flare virus. He learns that the Earth has been “scorched” and zombies rule the night. He no sooner lands in the safety of the compound before he realizes this is a new trap. The leader of the compound Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen) keeps Thomas and his friends locked away in a dormitory with other groups of kids. And each day a half dozen or so are lead away to a sanctuary. But is it so?

No, it can’t be so, because then the movie would only be about 10-minutes long. Thomas sneaks away from his group’s dormitory to see where exactly his fellow “Immunes” are being taken. To his horror, he discovers that everyone is being rendered unconscious, locked in a huge storage facility, hooked up to a tangle of tubes, and hung like meat in a meat locker. Thomas and his friends manage to escape the facility in search of the “Right Arm”, a resistance group that may help them escape the wicked WCKD.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is yet another Young Adult Dystopian Future movie. It at least has the distinction that it doesn’t divide the youngsters into factions or districts or whatever based upon their personality. But like so many other YADF stories, the adults have created a mess of the world and it is up to the youth to fix it.

Our hero in this story is Thomas who definitely seems a cut above the rest of the troupe. When others are frightened, he’s staunch. When others run, he stands strong. He’s smarter than the average teen and takes risks. He is loyal to his friends, perhaps to a fault. As a hero type, he does really well.

Greg, this genre of story and movie is wearing a bit thin. The dysto-popularity tells me that young people are extremely dissatisfied with the status quo and blame geezers like me for creating unfair, unjust societies.

I get that. What I don’t get is why these movies aren’t better quality movies. This Maze Runner film is about a bunch of kids who are constantly running from something. Sometimes they are running from zombies. Sometimes it’s the bad guys from WCKD. Maybe they were the actors trying to run from the set of their own bad movie.

The hero Thomas is substandard, in my opinion, because he shows no transformation. Normally, I might excuse the absence of transformation by pointing out that this is an episodic hero. After all, we know that the makers of movie franchises resist deviating from a successful formula so they maintain an unchanging hero. I suspect that the filmmakers here are just incapable of making a movie with meaningful character change. The focus seems to be on a very simplistic good versus evil story with zombies, cool CGI effects, and people running all the time from danger. It could have been so much more.

This was definitely a transitional movie. Like The Empire Strikes Back, it sets up the next film in the series rather than being a stand-alone story. Thomas is surrounded by a surprisingly balanced diverse group of friends. One of them drops dead after an encounter with a zombie. And after that they are pretty much interchangeable. Thomas and friends do encounter a couple of survivors of the scorch: Jorge and Brenda. Jorge is not Brenda’s father, but he cares for her as if she were his daughter.

But your point is well-taken, Scott. Just when you think you know the relationships in this movie, these new characters are introduced and we’re off on some tangent where Thomas and Brenda are swept up in a rave-club. There doesn’t appear to be any storytelling reason for this, other than to show how youngsters are trapped and shipped off to WCKD if they are immune to the Flare. It reminded me a bit of Disney’s Pinocchio and “Pleasure Island” where the boys drink liquer and smoke cigars – only to be turned into donkeys so they can work in the salt mines.

A lot of these dystopian future movies seem to have women play the role of the mastermind villain. In The Giver it was Meryl Streep’s character. In Divergent it was Kate Winslet’s character. Now, here in Maze Runner it is Patricia Clarkson’s character named Ava Paige. One could applaud filmmakers for showing greater gender egalitarianism, but as I psychologist I can’t resist speculating about the significance of a female mastermind engineering a horrible future. Why are women to blame for a society that exploits young people? Is this some sort of twisted Mother Complex?

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a passable sequel to last year’s The Maze Runner. It suffers the plight of many a sequel in that it is not as good as the original, and as it is the second of four planned films, it also suffers from being the middle child. Like this summer’s Insurgent, we follow the hero from location to location without much going on. I can’t see giving MR:TST more than 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero in this story has all the right ingredients – but one. He lacks a missing inner quality. He comes prefabricated with all the tools he needs to be a leader. Since there is nothing for him to overcome, he doesn’t transform and so is a dull character. I reserve a score of three for anything that is average. And as Thomas falls below average, I give him just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, the secondary characters in MR:TST are pretty interchangeable. There’s a moment when Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) appears to be a love interest. But then Thomas runs off with Brenda and neither relationship amounts to much. However, the character of Jorge was a pretty 3-D guy. He was an opportunist and pragmatist, but still had a soft spot for is young ward, Brenda. However, I still give the secondary characters just 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is another movie about the elders of the future abusing young people. This film isn’t terrible but it’s also not inspired in any way. One method I use to judge a movie is by how memorable it is two days after seeing it. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials didn’t even pass the 12-hour test. At most I can only award this film 2 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was formulaic and impoverished. Thomas isn’t a bad hero, but he cannot escape the blandness of the movie any more than he could escape WCKD. He doesn’t transform at all, and there aren’t good mentors or parent figures to help him. Perhaps this is because anyone with grey hair in this movie genre can’t be trusted. Thomas as a hero also eeks out a rating of 2 out of 5.

The supporting characters are a fairly decent complement to Thomas. Brenda and Jorge may be the most compelling figures in the movie, and I admit that I did admire their very cool hideout.  Ava as the female mastermind isn’t as charismatic as her counterparts in this genre, Kate Winslet and Meryl Streep. The zombies were just plain silly and unnecessary. Generously I award this motley group 2 out of 5 cast points.

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