Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (dir by Wes Ball)


Here are a few good things about Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

First off, and most importantly, Dylan O’Brien is still alive.  When The Death Cure first went into production way back in 2016, O’Brien was seriously injured on the set.  While it’s never really been disclosed just how serious the injuries were, they were bad enough that it took O’Brien several months to recover.  There was even some speculation that his career might be over.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Last year, O’Brien returned to the screen and gave a superior performance as the lead in American Assassin.  In The Death Cure, O’Brien returns as Thomas and even if the character is still a bit of cipher, O’Brien does a good job playing him.

Secondly, Gally lives!  In the first Maze Runner, Gally was a villain but, because he was played by Will Poulter, he was also strangely likable.  Maze Runner was the first film in which I ever noticed Will Poulter and I have to admit that I’ve always felt that both the actor and the character deserved better than to be casually killed off at the end of the first movie.  Since Maze Runner, Poulter has given great performances in both The Revenant and Detroit.  (He was also briefly cast as Pennywise in It, though the role was ultimately played by Bill Skarsgard.)  In The Death Cure, it is not only revealed that Gally is still alive but he also finally gets to be one of the good guys.

Third, the Death Cure confirms what I felt when I first saw The Maze Runner.  Wes Ball is a talented director.  Despite whatever narrative flaws that the Maze Runner films may have, they’re always watchable.  Death Cure opens with a genuinely exciting action sequence and there are more than a few visually striking shots.

Fourth, Death Cure actually ends the Maze Runner saga.  That may sound like a strange or back-handed compliment but it’s not.  Death Cure resists the temptation to try to milk more money out of the franchise by unnecessarily splitting the finale in two.  I’ve always felt that The Hunger Games made a huge mistake with its two-part finale.  (The first part was good but the second part dragged.)  Divergent appears to be destined to be forever unfinished because the first part of it’s two-part finale bombed at the box office.  Death Cure refuses to indulge in any of that nonsense.  Unfortunately, this also means that Death Cure ends up lasting an unwieldy 142 minutes but still, that’s better than forcing the film into two parts.  With the current YA dysptopia cycle winding down, now is the right time to end things.

Finally, I appreciated the fact that the bad guys in Death Cure were named WCKD.  There’s nothing subtle about that but this isn’t a movie the demands subtlety.  As opposed to many other films based on dystopian YA fiction, The Maze Runner films have always been aware of just how ludicrous they often are.  Unlike the Divergent films or The Fifth Wave, the Maze Runner films have always been smart enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Anyway, as for Death Cure itself, it’s big and noisy and your enjoyment will largely depend on how much you remember about the first two films.  It’s been nearly three years since The Scorch Trials came out, which is an eternity when it comes to a franchise like Maze Runner.  Death Cure pretty much jumps right into the action and if you don’t remember all of the details from the first two films … well, good luck getting caught up!  (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that, while the first movie was fun, Scorch Trials was a lot easier to forget.)  It’s pretty much a typical tale of YA dystopia, complete with tragic deaths, shocking betrayal, and a chosen one.  If you’re a fan of the previous two films or the books, you’ll probably enjoy Death Cure.  For the rest of us, it’s a bit of a confusing ride but at least there’s a lot of up-and-coming talent on display.

Playing Catch-Up: The Stanford Prison Experiment and The Tribe


The_Stanford_Prison_Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells a true story.  It’s important to point that out because this is one of those films that, if you didn’t know it was based on a true story, you would probably be inclined to dismiss as being totally improbable.

In 1971, Professor Philip Zimbardo (played in the movie by Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment at Stanford University.  A fake prison was built in the basement of a campus building, complete with cells and even a room to be used for solitary confinement.  15 students volunteered to take part in the experiment.  For $15.00 a day, some of the students were randomly assigned to be prisoners while others got to be guards.  The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but Zimbardo ended it after 6 days.  Why?  Because the students had started to the take the experiment very seriously, with the guards growing increasingly sadistic towards their “prisoners.”  Afterwards, many of the prisoner students claimed to have been traumatized while the guard students felt they were just playing a game.

(As one of the guards says in the film, “Am I still going to get paid?”)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells the story of that controversial experiment and it is, at times, quite a harrowing experience.  Interestingly, when the film begins, the focus is on the prisoners.  I immediately noticed that Ezra Miller was one of the prisoners and, being familiar with his work in Perks of Being A Wallflower and We Need To Talk About Kevin, I naturally assumed that the majority of the film would revolve around him.  After all, among the actors playing the prisoners, Ezra Miller was the “biggest name.”  And, when the film began, it did seem to be centered around Miller’s likable and rebellious presence.

But then something happened.  Miller faded into the background.  In fact, all of the “prisoners” faded into the background and the actors became almost indistinguishable from each other.  Instead, the film started to focus on one of the guards.  Outside of the prison, Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano) is a laid back and rather amiable California college student.  But, once he shows up for the night shift, Archer starts to talk about all of the prison films that he’s seen.  He starts to speak in a Southern accent.  He says stuff like, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  And soon, Archer is making the rules inside the prison.

In much the same way that Christopher Archer takes over the experiment, actor Michael Angarano takes over the film.  While Zimbardo and his colleagues watch Archer’s actions with a mix of fascination and fear, the film’s audience becomes enthralled with Angarano’s intense performance.  Wisely, neither Angarano nor the film allow Archer to turn into a cardboard villain.  He’s not a bad guy.  Instead, he’s playing a role.  He’s been told to act like a guard and that’s what he’s going to do, regardless of whatever else may happen.  The most fascinating part of the film becomes the contrast between Archer the likable student and Archer the fascist authority figure.

It’s frustrating that more people didn’t see The Stanford Prison Experiment when it was released in 2015.  Considering the blind trust in authority that is currently so popular in certain parts of the American culture, The Stanford Prison Experiment is a film that a lot of people really do need to see and learn from.

The_Tribe_poster

The Tribe (dir by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Anyone who says that they truly understand everything that happens in the disturbing Ukrainian film The Tribe is lying.  Taking place at a school for the deaf and exclusively cast with deaf actors, The Tribe is a film where everyone communicates in Ukrainian Sign Language and there are no subtitles.  However, the actors are often filmed with their back to the camera and occasionally, their hands are out of frame so, even if you do know Ukrainian Sign Language, there’s still going to be scenes where you have no idea what anyone is saying.

And it’s appropriate really.  The Tribe is a film about alienation and, by refusing to give us either an interpreter or subtitles, it forces the audience to feel the same alienation that the film’s characters have to deal with on a daily basis.  It quickly becomes obvious that these permanent outsiders have created their own society and the least of their concerns is whether the rest of the world understands it.

What can be learned about the film’s story largely comes from the body language of the actors and the audience’s own knowledge of gangster movies, which is what The Tribe basically is.  A new student at a boarding school for the deaf is recruited into a gang that deals drugs and pimps out two female students as prostitutes at a truck stop.  When the new student falls in love with one of the girls, it leads to some truly brutal acts of violence, all of which are somehow made more disturbing by the fact that they take place in total silence.

(The talkative criminals of most gangster films allow audiences to focus on something other than the violence.  When people talk about the opening of a film like Pulp Fiction, they talk about John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson talking about Amsterdam.  They don’t focus on the guys getting gunned down in their apartment.  In The Tribe, there are no quips or one-liners before people are hurt and we are forced to pay more attention to the consequences of brutality.)

The Tribe is made up of only 34 shots.  The wide-angle lens forces us to consider these alienated characters against the barren Ukrainian landscape and the camera constantly moves with the characters, tracking them as closely as fate.  Intense and dream-lie, The Tribe is a hauntingly enigmatic film.  It’s not an easy film but it is a rewarding one.

Film Review: The Maze Runner (dir by Wes Ball)


MR

Hi there and greetings from beautiful Lake Texoma.  Having recently completed both 3 months of covering Big Brother for the Big Brother Blog and my series of Back to School reviews for this site, I am currently on a much-needed vacation with my wonderful boyfriend.  However, you all know that I would never let a little thing like being on vacation keep me from watching and then reviewing whatever is currently playing down at the closest available theater.

For instance, last night, we saw The Maze Runner at the Cinemark 14 in Denton, Texas.  The Cinemark is a really nice theater.  The seats are comfortable.  The people working there were nice and polite.  The movie sounded great.  Even the audience was surprisingly polite.  Only a few people came in late and, for the most part, everyone refrained from talking during the film.  Good for them and good for you, Cinemark 14!

As for the movie itself…

The Maze Runner tells the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a teenager who wakes up one day in a grassy clearing that is encircled by gigantic, gray walls.  Thomas finds himself surrounded by several other teenage boys.  Unable to remember anything about his past (but haunted by chaotic dreams that suggest that he is the part of some sort of lab experiment), Thomas initially reacts by trying to run.  However, he is quickly tackled and introduced to his new home.

The grassy area is known as the Glade and the boys who live there are known as Gladers.  Their leader is Alby (Aml Ameen) and, as he quickly explains to Thomas, he has created a tediously collectivist society where everyone has his assigned place and his assigned duty.  (And yes, that is the correct pronoun.  There are no girls among the Gladers.)  Alby explains that, behind the walls, there lies a maze that is patrolled by terrifying creatures known as Grievers.  The most athletic and intelligent of the Gladers are allowed to become Runners.  Everyday, the Runners run through the maze and memorize every twist and turn.

Thomas, needless to say, wants to be a runner.  And it’s good that he does because otherwise, the film would be kind of boring.

Anyway, along the way to becoming a runner, Thomas has more visions of an autocratic woman (Patricia Clarkson) and he also manages to make an enemy out of Gally (Will Poulter), a Glader who never wants to leave Glade.  Eventually, a girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) shows up, along with a note saying that she’s the last one and no one else will be showing up in the Glade.

Now, at this point, you may be tempted to ask, “What’s going on?”

Well, you’ll have to wait a few years to find out because The Maze Runner is just part one of a trilogy.  Much like The Hobbit, Divergent, and The Hunger Games, it answers just enough questions to keep the audience satisfied while still ending with a cliffhanger.  So, if you do see The Maze Runner, be sure to pay attention because you don’t want to forget everything that happened before the sequel comes out sometime next year.

There’s a lot of good things that can be said about The Maze Runner.  For the most part, the actors did a good job.  The grievers were scary.  The maze looked impressive, though it’s hard not to feel that the film did not take full narrative advantage of it.

However, to be honest, I have seen so many recent adaptations of dystopian YA books that, with the exception of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, they’re all starting to blend together.  The Maze Runner was well made but there really wasn’t anything about it that distinguished it from the pack.  Without the presence of a star like Jennifer Lawrence or the satirical subtext that distinguished The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner ultimately just felt like your typical franchise starter, not so much a story but instead just an extended prologue.

Again, it’s not necessarily a bad film.  It’s based on a book and, undoubtedly, a lot of details did not make it from the page to the screen but there’s still enough there that even people who haven’t read the book will probably be able to follow the story.  Me, I’m a Texas girl and, therefore, it’s a part of my heritage to appreciate any film that features an individual taking on an elitist dystopia.   But, in the end, the film is never quite as memorable as you want it to be.

Perhaps we’ve all just been spoiled by The Hunger Games

The-Maze-Runner-Movie