The Maze Runner Trilogy
The Maze Runner (January 15/18)
Based on the book by James Dashner, The Maze Runner follows Dylan O'Brien's Thomas as he awakens in an enclosed area with no memory of how he got there or even who he is - with the narrative subsequently detailing Thomas' efforts, alongside his fellow captives, at escaping the maze on said enclosed area's outskirts. Director Wes Ball kicks The Maze Runner off with an impressively engrossing pre-credits sequence that seems to promise a better-than-usual teen dystopian thriller, and yet the movie, though generally watchable, quickly segues into a meandering midsection that could (and should) have been trimmed down considerably - with the film's padded-out 113 minute running time often threatening to cancel out its more positive attributes. It's worth noting, then, that the picture benefits strongly from O'Brien's charismatic performance and a smattering of above-average action sequences, with, in terms of the latter, Ball infusing the narrative's high-octane moments with a refreshingly coherent sensibility that proves impossible to resist (eg there is, for example, a chase through the titular maze that packs a far more visceral punch than one might've anticipated). The rampant familiarity running through the proceedings - ie there's little here to differentiate it from the Hunger Games and Allegiant series - stands as a continuing impediment to The Maze Runner's ultimate success, however, and it doesn't seem likely, given the revelations contained in the climactic stretch, that this feeling will change in the series' remaining two installments.
The Scorch Trials
Picking up immediately after the events of The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials follows Dylan O'Brien's Thomas and his fellow escapees as they slowly-but-surely determine that their supposed safe haven might not be quite so safe after all - with the movie detailing their subsequent efforts at locating a group known only as the Right Arm. There's little doubt that The Scorch Trials fares best in its almost shockingly entertaining opening half hour, as director Wes Ball kicks the proceedings off with an exciting escape sequence that will surely stand as the high-water-mark for this entire series - although Ball, unfortunately, squanders the effectiveness of that stretch to an increasingly distressing degree. The narrative moves into an progressively generic midsection that grows less and less interesting as it moves forward, as scripter T.S. Nowlin places a continuing emphasis on elements that could hardly be less compelling (eg the bland human villains that crop up, the discovery of a ragtag group of underground freedom fighters, etc, etc). This ensures that the series' decidedly generic atmosphere is far more prevalent and prominent than in the original film, and it's apparent throughout, ultimately, that The Scorch Trials feels more like a wheel-spinning stepping-stone to the final installment - which, aside from that aforementioned first act, cements the movie's place as a fairly needless endeavor with little to offer all but the most ardent Maze Runner aficionado.
The Death Cure
The Maze Runner saga comes to a close with its weakest installment yet, as director Wes Ball delivers a bloated and punishingly overlong narrative that wears out its welcome to a palpable degree. The storyline, detailing Dylan O'Brien's Thomas' efforts to stop WCKD once and for all, ultimately boasts too few elements to justify a 142 minute running time, which is disappointing, to be sure, given that Wes Ball kicks The Death Cure off with yet another of the series' signature action-oriented opening - with the strength of this sequence, which can't quite top the one in The Scorch Trials, seemingly setting the stage for a better-than-expected finish. It becomes clear fairly quickly, though, that scripter T.S. Nowlin isn't interested in deviating from the series' erratic sensibilities, with the movie, perhaps inevitably, progressing into a more-of-the-same midsection that's often more miss than it is hit. And although the film's first half remains watchable due to Ball's solid direction and the efforts of an impressively solid supporting cast, The Death Cure ultimately segues into a third act that couldn't possibly be less interesting and more annoying - with the inclusion of some decent action unable to compensate for a somewhat endless and oddly misguided climax (ie this doesn't seem like a franchise that needs an unstoppable, slasher-like villain). There is, in the end, little doubt that this entire trilogy could (and should) have been boiled down to one tightly-edited film, which is a shame, really, given the massive potential afforded by the premise and the talent in front of and behind the camera.