27 September 2015

First Impressions: The Scorch Trials

Before we begin, note that this isn't a joke. Yes, I went and saw The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) in theaters. I rarely do this kind of thing, but I had extremely minor interest in seeing this thing. A friend of mine was pumped for it, and I was a little drunk, so I tagged along. I've now realized that there's a reason why I typically only watch films I am actually excited for. The Scorch Trials was that rare kind of film that was so bad that it actually makes me angry to think about. I was definitely walking out of the theater in a baby-punching mood, full of unrestrained rage that a movie this bad could exist and make someone a profit. Needless to say, SPOILERS from here on out in our discussion of this piece a shit, if you care.

First off, I'll admit that I know next to nothing about The Maze Runner. I know it's a YA adaptation and it's about a kid who runs through a maze or something, and that's about it. I had actually heard good things about The Scorch Trials, though, and I was intrigued by the concept that it was possibly the loosest adaptation of a book to film ever. But I had neither read the books nor seen the first movie. That was perhaps a huge tactical error, although I'm not convinced my seething hatred for this shitty movie is derived solely from my inherent cluelessness of anything going in.

For this reason I have trouble even recounting the plot. Apparently, a bunch of kids are out of whatever maze they were running from and chilling at some weird secret post-apocalyptic holding facility. Sometimes I'll roll my eyes when long-running popular franchises recap what happened last time around, although I really could have used it here. It's kind of a cool idea that Scorch Trials is nothing like The Maze Runner, in the sense that the main characters are completely lifted out of the main high concept and thrown into the greater world at large.

This does offer some weird turns, though. Like, apparently this is a zombie movie? That felt really tacked on, especially since it's presumably totally unmentioned in the first film, which, as is my understanding, focused mostly on giant mechano-bug monsters as the primary antagonists. I liked that the film just did whatever it wanted with plot, but so much of it felt like it was making it up as it went along.
"Dink dink! Dink dink dink dink dink dink!"

Here's a quick pop quiz: name three character traits for Thomas, the lead character played by some young actor that doesn't matter. I can't really think of any. This movie is mind-fuckingly dull despite its continuous chase scenes and constant rolling plot, primarily because the characters are completely underdeveloped. Nothing about them is iconic or interesting. There are a slew of survivors in their little party that are all interchangeable, even some that mysteriously disappear without anyone noticing. Apparently Jack (a character with no lines) had a death scene cut for whatever reason, which is fine, but also results in the strange situation where he is running with the group when they go into an infested mall, but doesn't come out with them, without a single character commenting on the fact that he's just gone.

There are also really long stretches of the film where a slew of main characters are completely absent. We just hang out with Thomas and this girl Brenda for like, an adventure through a busted up city. To be fair, the production design during these scenes is pretty solid. It's kind of mystifying where they are or what is going on or why the only people there is a nightclub that operates during the day with absinthe as admission. Rest assured, this is actually stupider than it sounds. By the end of this potentially dangerous situation, Thomas wakes up with his friends, who apparently had even less interesting adventures while absent from the picture.

I can't believe how long this terrible movie was. At two hours and eighteen minutes it's a complete chore, only made better by the climactic ending that doesn't feel climactic at all. Therefore when it finally ends (and it does just that - it just sort of stops playing at a point that's as good as any other one), it's actually a relieving moment.

Very little of this movie is distinctive or fun or interesting, which really brings it down. The one notable moment may be Giancarlo Esposito's plan to blow up his own HQ at the finale of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight." After that cool character moment tho, there's hardly another scene with him, and his motivations and origin are always crazily hazy.

Speaking of motivations, can we talk about the very real possibility that the shady evil organization, literally called WCKD ("Wicked," as every character calls it, which is the worst name ever), isn't really evil at all? Sure they're deceptive, and harvest young people immune to the Zombie plague (but wait, at one point don't they say that they're no longer immune? That one kid fucking dies from a Zombie scratch!), although they are attempting to save the world. These asshole protagonists just run away for the whole movie towards a half-baked resistance movement called the Right Arm, although it's never clear (to the audience or the characters) what the Right Arm even does or what their ideology is. It's also not like WCKD is dominating society with an iron grip. In fact, it's more like they have one base and a few helicopters, not a super far-reaching dictatorship or anything. It's really frustrating.

As for deeper themes or meaningful content, there isn't much to be said here. Maybe there's a little youth vs. old thing going on, where the kids are the hope for the future but far too stupid to make that distinction worthwhile.

Recounting this film today has filled me with unending fury. It's bogged down by an inconsistent plot and character motivations that are hollow and severely underdeveloped. It's dumb and uninteresting and interchangeable with every other shitty film out there. There is nothing good to be had in a world where this movie exists.

Have a good week! Go see Black Mass (2015).

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