Review: ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ Pits Hardy Teenagers Against a …

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Box office preview: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Black Mass kick off fall movie season.

Science doesn’t yet know how many movies it will take to answer this century’s most pressing question: How will attractive teenagers survive the apocalypse? “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” the second in a series about a racially diverse but otherwise interchangeable set led by a hardy hunk named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), throws us right into the action.

If The Scorch Trials, the sequel to The Maze Runner (2014), has one obvious weakness, it’s that the movie — like a still-toddering child — really doesn’t stand on its own.LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wes Ball’s adaptation of the first book from James Dashner’s “Maze Runner” young adult novels, about a group of teens consigned to a mysterious labyrinth, yielded a feature that proved it could compete for the same audience as the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series. It’s basically “Social Security: The Movie.” The kids who survived last year’s “The Maze Runner” (no mazes in this one, but never mind) are now caught up in the machinations of the mysterious medical-research group called W.C.K.D., or “wicked.” This failure of naming wit is emblematic of this earnestly dull movie as a whole: We all know that when the real goons come for us, they’ll be calling themselves S.M.I.L.E. or N.I.C.E. The second installment, which reveals some of the reasons behind the teens’ imprisonment, lacks a similar sense of originality and urgency, undercut by overly familiar characterizations and dilatory pacing. Now they are in a large industrial compound, saved from a nefarious organization called WCKD by another mysterious crew led by Janson (Aidan Gillen), a transparently shady guy himself.

Additional releases from the faith-based Captive and the adventure drama Everest (in limited IMAX release only) should make it a busy weekend at the box office. The film picks up immediately after the original, with the survivors Thomas et al alighting from a helicopter into a desolate desert landscape before being hustled inside a fortified compound by agents from World in Catastrophe Killzone experiment Department.

Before long, Thomas — aided by a new character, Aris (Jacob Lofland) — discovers exactly what the people from WCKD want from the young people and it ain’t pretty. Now free of their maze after suffering several significant casualties, the Gladers are confronted by the widespread breakdown of social order following a series of unprecedented solar events that have overheated the Earth’s surface critically and decimated many terrestrial ecosystems. Scorch Trials picks up where the previous installment left off, trading the enormous maze for a shriveled wasteland, and it’s eyeing a slightly higher debut of about $35 million, which should easily put it in first place. To wait a movie and a half for a big reveal and have it turn out to be a zombie plague is like waiting until March for your Christmas present, and it turning out to be a three-pack of white Hanes T-shirts. After a daring escape, they find themselves wandering through sun-scorched sand dunes and derelict cities and trying to stay out of the clutches of their former captors and “cranks,” zombielike humans infected with the “flair.” If only they can connect with the Right Arm resistance movement, they might find sanctuary at last.

After unidentified soldiers evacuate them to an ominous underground paramilitary facility, the teens discover that their group was only one of several subjected to the mysterious maze trials. Their unlikely jailbreak sends them blinking into a blasted landscape of ruined skyscrapers and giant sand dunes, like some combination of Tatooine and Detroit, where they hope to survive long enough to find a fabled group of resistance fighters. “The Scorch Trials” adds nothing new to the unkillable dystopian genre, but it’s at least less ponderous than its predecessor. Scott Cooper’s Whitey Bulger biopic, which chronicles the notorious gangster’s life in Boston, is on track for a debut in the low-20s, but some tracking services are predicting that it could go even higher. Rosa Salazar is a welcome addition to the cast as feisty Brenda, a nice counterpart to the anemic Teresa (Kaya Scodelario); Giancarlo Esposito is fun as the treacherous Jorge. But busy though the movie is, things always work out too easily for the kids, which is why this action-packed movie passes as slowly as an 11th grade social-studies class.

The action sequences are well-executed and there’s plenty of them and drabs of exposition along the way that marginally advance the story. (The series actually extends to five books. En route, they seek shelter in an abandoned factory, where they’re captured by mercenary gang leader Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his young protege, Brenda (Rosa Salazar).

It’s roughly the equal of the “Hunger Games” movies, maybe even slightly better because it eschews the clunky satire and the campy costumes, but, to put the matter less kindly, it’s roughly as bad as the “Hunger Games” movies. The Visit has been widely hailed as Shyamalan’s best film in years, and it’s another win for producer Jason Blum, whose microbudget horror movies tend to bring in big box-office receipts. If The Visit performs similarly to other Blum horror flicks, it should see a drop of about 60 percent, which will put it (again) just behind The Perfect Guy. Scorch Trials isn’t particularly original or challenging, but there’s enough action and adventure to maintain audience interest until the arrival of Part 3 in 2017.

Nowlin can’t manage to convincingly frame the backstory concerning the catastrophic deterioration of the terrestrial environment that threatens humanity’s survival. (Some type of super ozone hole or rapid deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere? Since opening in late August, the faith-based drama War Room has held up extremely well week-to-week, earning a domestic total of $41.4 million so far.

An unprecedented solar flare-up?) The evidence connecting that event to the development and spread of a deadly virus is so vague as to appear almost speculative. As the group’s de-facto leader, O’Brien imbues the role of Thomas with a degree of determined stoicism that appears little evolved since the franchise’s first installment, relying more on withholding emotion than displaying it.

Teens from other mazes are there, too, and every day Janson calls out a few names for release, a lucky few who go back to their normal lives of happy-go-lucky teenager business and … Maybe not. Janson represents the Gladers’ foremost threat, and Gillen deceptively displays the duplicity required as a WCKD agent who’s tasked with extracting information from the Gladers and preparing them for the next ominous phase of their ordeal. Cinematically, Ball attempts to sustain engagement by providing each successive setting with a different combination of threats and distinctive stylistic treatment, borrowing from drama, thriller and horror genres.

Debuting in 800 locations, Captive is expected to perform similarly to 90 Minutes in Heaven, another faith-based drama that opened last weekend to $2 million. He’s certainly willing to sell Thomas and the others back to WCKD if the teenagers don’t have anything to offer, but circumstances change and Jorge and Brenda wind up on the run along with the others.

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