The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Posted on September 17, 2015 at 5:51 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

The first Maze Runner movie had an arresting premise and a solid structure, literally and metaphorcally. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), with his memory wiped, arrived at a mysterious facility called The Glade, populated entirely by teenage boys. It turned out to be an enormous maze that re-arranged itself every night, when horrible monsters called The Grievers came out and one sting from them caused madness.

Thomas figured out how to escape from the maze at the end of the film, but the triumph was tempered by indicators that his worst problems were just beginning and by our knowledge that there were two more books in the series by James Dasher scheduled to be made into movies. “The Scorch Trials” is the second.

This sequel is very much a transitional film, with non-stop action and not much story. It’s as though Dasher decided to throw just about every bad thing possible at Thomas and his small band of escapees from The Glade.

They are greeted warmly by a man whose first indicator of untrustworthiness is that he does not introduce himself. When asked, instead of saying his name, he says, “You can call me Janson” (Aiden Gillen). But the teenagers are so happy to have a shower, food, and real beds that they are not inclined to question the bleak, prison-like structure with high security doors. And Janson’s promise to send them to a place free of the virus and blight that wiped out most life on earth sounds so good that they believe it, especially when they see the other teenagers in the facility cheering each night as another group is selected to leave for the haven he described.

But Thomas is skeptical, and when Aris (Jacob Lofland), a boy who has been at the facility for weeks, takes him on a tour through the air ducts, they discover that instead of being brought to a wonderful new home the teens who have a genetic immunity to “the flare” disease that wiped out most humans are being taken to a medical facility to be drained of their blood for doctors working to find a cure, even at the expense of the kids’ lives. Thomas leads yet another escape, though Janson taunts him that no one can survive the Scorch, the wasteland conditions outside the bunker. Thomas and his friends, including Aris, battle sandstorms and lightning, zombies, and outlaws.

So much happens that it gets repetitive. If a major character appears trapped and you hear a bang, you can bet the bang is a last minute save from behind the bad guy. Some red shirts don’t make it and there are some twists of alliances and betrayals, but eventually it is more video game than story, raising questions that are more “how does this make sense?” than “looking forward to the answers in part three!”

Parents should know that the film has constant very intense peril and extensive violence including zombies, lethal medical procedures, guns, and explosions, suicides, some very disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, a kiss, some strong language, and teen substance abuse.

Family discussion: How is Thomas different from the other characters in the way he evaluates his options? Why did Teresa make her controversial decision?

If you like this, try: the books and the first movie in the series, the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” movies

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Drama Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Stories about Teens

The Maze Runner

Posted on September 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Underage drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi action, peril and violence with many disturbing images, including monsters, dead bodies, apparent suicide, and wounds, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 19, 2014
Date Released to DVD: December 15, 2014 ASIN: B00OY7YPGK

maze runnerYes, it’s another dystopic YA trilogy (actually, there’s a fourth volume, a prequel), and yes, only a teenager with fabulous cheekbones can save the day. But “The Maze Runner” is not a lesser repeat. It is a worthy addition to the genre, an absorbing drama with surprising turns and even more surprising resonance to contemporary conflicts.

Our main character learns what is going on around him at the same time we do. He awakens with a gasp in an elevator cage hurtling to the surface. His memory is gone. He does not know who he is or where he is. When the elevator stops, he finds that he is in a wilderness, the entire population adolescent boys. They call it The Glade. For three years, one boy has arrived by that same elevator every month, along with some supplies in a box marked WCKD. We learn along with the boy, called “Greenie” by the others because he is new, that they have created a society with rules and assigned tasks. The Glade is surrounded by a massive maze that re-arranges itself every night. One group of boys, called Runners,” explore the maze every day to try to map its variations and figure out an escape path. They have to be out of the maze at night because horrible monsters called The Grievers come out. No one who was in the maze at night has ever survived. A “sting” from one of the monsters is toxic, causing madness. The other boys, led by Alby (Aml Ameen of “The Butler”), introduce the greenie to their world and tell him he will remember his name. “It’s the one thing they let us keep.” He does remember. His name is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien).

The boys understand the concept of parents but have no memory of ever having had any. Chuck (Blake Cooper), one of the youngest and most tender-hearted of the boys in The Glade, confides to Thomas that he has carved a little totem for the parents he cannot remember but hopes to be returned to some day.

Alby explains the rules to Thomas. Everyone must do his part. Never harm another Glader. “None of this works unless we have trust.” Never go beyond these walls. But those rules are based on the past. Thomas’ arrival signals some changes. Or did he create those changes? That is an issue that will be debated and then fought over.

“You’re not like the others,” someone says to Thomas. “You’re curious.” Thomas says that if they have not figured a way out in three years, it is time to try something new. Some of the others agree with him, especially after the elevator arrives with someone new — a girl — with a note that says she will be the last one.

A little bit “Lord of the Flies” (boys creating their own society, the struggle between animal instincts and human justice), a little bit “Hunger Games” (teenagers used as pawns by adults), it still manages to bring some imaginative and provocative themes and create distinctive characters. The maze itself is stunning. Production designer Marc Fisichella and the entire sound team have created a maze that is more than an obstacle course or a metaphor. The conflicts as the boys try to maintain some control in the midst of an environment that, like the maze, shifts and constricts are absorbing. The result is a film that you do not need to be a teenager or a YA fan to appreciate.

Parents should know that this film has sci-fi-style action, peril and violence, guns, knives, many young characters injured and killed, suicide, scary and disgusting monsters, some disturbing images, some strong language, and teen drinking.

Family discussion: Why do Thomas and Gally have different ideas about what to do? What was the maze supposed to test?

If you like this, try: the book series and other dystopian films like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Stories about Teens
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