Exactly one year ago today – for a different publication – I filed a review of the first Maze Runner film, based on James Dashner’s series of bestsellers about amnesic teenagers fighting to stay alive in a postapocalyptic world. It was a review of righteous anger and fervent distaste for one of the worst films I had ever seen, a film so acutely unoriginal, confused, illogical, depressing and fatalistic that I have no idea how the books became popular in the first place. I ended the review in part by saying that, should there be a sequel, I would refuse to watch it. The Maze Runner left a taste that bad in my mouth.
Within hours of publishing online, British actor Will Poulter (who played one of the first film’s chief villains, but doesn’t return for the sequel) bristled at my review so much that he actively campaigned on Twitter to find me and give me a piece of his mind. Fans of Dashner and Poulter immediately seized on the call to arms. For months I was inundated with thousands of angry tweets, scornful, sometimes threatening e-mails, and a litany of often grammatically incorrect comments on a daily basis. Few were interested in creating a discourse about the film itself and why I might be respectfully disagreed with. Most wanted me harmed, fired or “slayed,” which I learned at 34 is something the kids use as slang these days.
Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, the film has been cemented as a blockbuster and I have calmed down about the situation, mostly. Clearly I acquiesced and agreed to cover a sequel I vowed never to watch, mostly because it’s for a national paper of record.
To what I’m sure is no one’s surprise, the sequel is terrible and all my original criticisms for the first film still stand, but at least it’s a more entertaining kind of awful.
Heroic Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow escapees make it out of a mysterious maze set up by a shadow company called WCKD (headed up by Patricia Clarkson’s ambiguously evil doctor). The purpose of the maze still makes no narrative or logical sense, but returning director Wes Ball thankfully doesn’t bring it up too much in favour of a mishmash of other genre tropes trucked in from better films.
One of the biggest complaints I heard about my original review was that none of the first film would make sense unless I read the books, and that everything would become clear by the second film. That was a lie. This film includes zombie aliens, a virus of indeterminate origin, cities razed to rebar, dust and crumbling infrastructure, and a rebel alliance that wants to overthrow the corporate overlords. All boys are soldiers. All women are objects. Adults of either gender can’t be trusted.
It’s all nonsense and Pablum designed for the undiscerning, and it’s impossible to invest in the characters in a world where the lucky ones die quickly and painlessly. In the right hands the material could be admirably bleak, but while Ball delivers a great-looking film, he never overcomes Dashner’s insipid storytelling and ludicrous plotting. It changes the kind of film it wants to be approximately every 20 minutes, with none of the choices improving much of anything.
On a thematic level, it remains wholly reprehensible and a fraudulent piece of entertainment. But at least it rips off some better films (Mad Max, Day of the Dead, The Matrix) with a good deal of energy.
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