Scorching Hot

For the UAS Whalesong
I recognize that there are problems with young adult literature. Most of these problems can be summed up by one of the Twitter accounts I follow, Brooding YA Hero (with the fairly straightforward handle of @broodingYAhero, if you’re   interested in his work). And yet, I still get a kick out of watching the movies based on these problematic books. Being up-to-date with the Hunger Games and Divergent films, I was very excited to continue the saga of Attractive Boys with a Mysterious and Constant Source of Hair Product Running Places and Panicking – also known as the Maze Runner series.
Every year, a friend of mine takes me to see the latest YA film hit, and every year, I am prepared to be underwhelmed. My emotional attachment to Katniss Everdeen is nonexistent, and I could care less what happens to Peeta. I guess I like Tris’s new haircut, and the way Four clenches his jaw and breathes heavily instead of actually vocalizing his apparently overwhelming emotions. A year ago, when I went to see the first Maze Runner movie (aptly titled The Maze Runner), I was ready to walk out the same person I was when I went in.
This did not happen. I spent the entire film on the edge of my seat, experiencing every drastic emotional range known to man. Since that day, I’ve seen the movie two more times, and have since come to realize that it’s honestly just Not That Good. But nevertheless, I was excited for the sequel, The Scorch Trials, and rolled up to theaters on September 18th ready to find out what would happen to my favorite squad of grown men actors attempting to portray confused teenage boys.
The first part of the movie was pretty predictable. A middle-aged man in a very expensive turtleneck ushers Thomas (the protagonist) and his friends into a very expensive-looking facility and tells them that everything is fine now. (Spoiler alert: Maze Runner ended with Turtleneck rescuing them from the maze.) Thomas is immediately suspicious, leading to an expected encounter with his significantly less suspicious friends, who tell him that he’s being paranoid. Things go down hill from there. Thomas makes friends with a strangely pale kid in a hoodie who barely talks – and when he does talk, it’s in the ancient Maze Runner tradition of “the vaguer I am, the less the author has to explain.” They witnesses an Evil Skype Conference, and then Thomas abuses his position of Trusted Leader amongst his peer group to take them all hurtling out of their shady haven and into Darude Sandstorm – excuse me, I meant Sahara Desert 2.0, which is apparently what the world has become in the aftermath of the Startlingly Ambiguous Sun-related (?) Catastrophe (The secret underlying subplot of everything Maze Runner-related is “stop asking questions and look at Thomas’s jawline until you’ve been suitably distracted.”).
The movie abruptly gets less predictable from there. In fact, if you were considering watching Scorch Trials for a fun YA-thriller lark, I would venture to stop you right there if you have any qualms about watching horror movies. The first hour of Scorch Trials has more running in it than the original Maze Runner film, complete with Thomas’s trademark running style of “flailing every limb in my body like a drunken giraffe while also shouting unintelligibly to underline the urgency of the situation.” Seriously, the kid has perfect form when he’s not running for his life, but throw some eyeless tar-dripping zombies into the equation and it all goes out the windows. Oh yeah, there are zombies. I think? The movie never actually explains what they are. We know they’re “infected,” a simple gunshot doesn’t do much to them, and they’re fast, scary, and make horrifying noises. Seriously, the first part of The Scorch Trials runs a lot like a survival horror game; I wasn’t the only one to make comparisons to the award-winning survival horror game The Last of Us.
Zombies and running aside, the movie then settles into relative predictability after an encounter with several deus ex machina adults. We receive elaboration on why Thomas is special – apart from being a Brooding YA Hero – we save a hot girl’s life, watch as Thomas get a hug from an emotional man who calls everyone “hermano,” and settle into that uncomfortable couch-crease of “everything seems fine but I know this movie should be ending soon and they’re probably going to go for a 1-book-2-movie deal for the next part so something has to go horribly wrong.” Right? Exactly.
I’m not sure why a female character was ever included in this series. Theresa could easily have been replaced by a brick in the first film, and in the second she does nothing that couldn’t have been managed by some mysterious external force that was as vaguely explained as everything else in the Maze Runner-verse. There’s really no reason for her to even be female, apart from some half-hearted attempt at a love interest for Thomas and some misguided attempt to appeal to the female part of the audience – but frankly, I know teenage girls who watch the series, and they are there to watch Dylan O’Brien play Thomas and clench his jaw, not to watch Theresa look mildly upset from behind her curtain of unwashed hair. Oh, and I guess there’s also that one scene in the first hour where Theresa changes clothes and one kid stares in her direction only to have another boy – who seems entirely and tellingly disinterested, especially when you consider they’ve all been deprived of exposure to females for 3 years – call his attention back to the job at hand, which seemed to be crouching in the foreground of the clothes-changing shot.
Overall, I would recommend this    movie for the edge-of-your-seat thrills and the zombie-not-zombies that, despite being an overused cliché in media of late, were actually really well and  creepily done. (It’s slightly more effective when they are really fast and ooze black from their   orifices.) At first impressions I would give this movie a solid 8 out of 10, but then like a -20 out of 10 for what they did to my favorite character at the end. And because I want to have the same emotionally harrowing, edge-of-my-seat experience for the final installment – or at least the first part of the final installment, if this series goes the same way as Divergent and Hunger Games – I am just going to have to wait a year to find out what happens to him.
I frankly think this series could have benefited greatly if they’d stayed in the maze, instead of going the same corrupt-government-takedown route of every other popular YA series out today – but hey, who am I to tell the author how to do his job? Haha just kidding, if you know James Dashner tell him I told him to drink his Imagination Juice. And get Hollywood to have Theresa wash her hair, at least. It is a stretch for me to believe that any character can be that 1-dimensional, but it is an even further stretch for me to believe that anyone would willingly deal with that hair for such a long period of time. Even Aragorn got to wash his hair after a while. Come on, man!

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