Monday, September 21, 2015

The Scorch Trials

Short version: Not as good as the first movie, and I think probably suffers more from adaptation blues. The effects were strong, though, and the acting was decent. I really do wish someone had warned me that the middle bit was a goddamn zombie movie, though. I hate zombie movies.

Oh, first I should take a moment to welcome people back. Hello, how are you, how have you been? I've been fine, but the late summer movie doldrums combined with a bit of vacation have meant that I haven't seen a new movie in a while. I considered doing an updated review of Ant-Man, but I didn't actually have anything new to say after seeing it a second time. I'm back now, though, with the sequel to The Maze Runner!

I was underwhelmed by The Maze Runner a year ago. (Here is my mini review, from when I was still doing this on my FB account.) The Scorch Trials did not do much to revive my interest. Our protagonists have been rescued from the Maze. But, surprise surprise, they are out of the frying pan into the fire. They discover remarkably early in the movie that they are still being manipulated by WCKD. Their decision is to run out into the desert.

Note that this is the last actual decision they make for a significant chunk of the movie. I had a large problem with the fact that the "plot" was basically them failing forward from one set piece to the next. There was no agency, no character development, and really not even that much world building. My wife strongly disagrees with me here. She believes that it was entirely reasonable that a group of teenagers with limited memories in general and zero knowledge of the outside world would be incapable of making informed decisions. I admit that it does make sense, but I wish that the story had been written differently to give them a better idea of what is going on.

The sets and scenery were interesting (though I felt like they were re-using scenery from Mad Max and Oblivion). The chase through the skyscraper leaning at 45 degrees was particularly good. I'm a bit confused as to how a virus caused the San Francisco Bay to turn into a dust bowl, but I may be forgetting a plot point from the end of the first movie. Oh, and the "Walking After Midnight" scene was fantastic.

While I found the script to be decidedly lacking in nearly every respect, I have to admit that the actors did a great job with what they had. I really felt a very strong chemistry between the various leads. All of the action scenes had good movement and interest without resorting to shaky cam and bad lighting to cover up poor choreography. Even as the dominoes start simply scattering in random directions during the climax, the actors were really selling the emotions at play.

Was there a feminist angle? Um, not really, no. It might technically satisfy the Bechdel Test, based on two lines of dialogue. But you're going way out on the technicality limb. And I can't say that it satisfies the Mako Mori Test either, as none of the female characters really get their own arc. In the first movie, this was entirely excusable, as part of the set-up was "this is a facility for boys". In this movie we get a lot of female characters introduced, but not much is done with them. I wonder, though, if the book was better about this. The female characters all seem strong, and reasonably complex. But their complexity fades into the background of the movie. (Admittedly, though, this also happens with all the male characters except the protagonist Thomas and the only character with real agency, Jorge.)

Should you see it? Eh. It's not a bad way to spend a couple hours, if you've seen everything else that's out that you're even remotely interested in. It's not a movie you would ever regret seeing, but also not one you would regret missing. I can't really give it a "thumbs up".

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