“A Trilogy of Great Performances and Production but With Little Originality”
Another Hunger Games rip off? Okay seriously, the early to mid-2010s had way too many YA book to film adaptations. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, and many more. So it’s easy to see why The Maze Runner got lost in all of this. To be honest, its story wasn’t original or groundbreaking and fell behind in terms of popularity compared to The Hunger Games which was first released back in 2012. The Maze Runner came out in 2014 when people were sick of these kinds of movies. I would probably feel the same way, but I will say this about The Maze Runner. It has fantastic production, visuals, sound design, world-building, music, and phenomenal performances by the cast. It might just have the most talented cast of all the YA adaptations besides Harry Potter. There is some clear effort and dedication put into The Maze Runner as shown by the director and the actors who tried their best to adapt a book series that wasn’t going to be easy to please the masses.
Despite the obvious flaws this trilogy has, I think I enjoyed the films more than others by having read the books a few days before. By themselves, I don’t know what I would think of them. They probably would be average at best, but I would need to read the books to understand everything. That is the case with just about any book to film adaptation. People will complain no matter what and that’s the reality. The movies are far from perfect, but they are not awful or painful to sit through. They are good at best largely because the story from the books was doomed to hamper it. Did I forget to mention that the movies don’t follow the books by The Scorch Trials? I don’t think this helped The Maze Runner movies at all, but I think this was done to make the films fall in line with a more traditional Hollywood blockbuster.
The Maze Runner
The first movie is considered the best largely because its story is mildly unique. There’s a lot of mystery and unknowns even for those who haven’t read the books. The world-building is magnificent. The special effects are also wonderful and believable (that Maze shift run sequence with Thomas and Minho is amazing). The acting is also very convincing. Dylan O’ Brian as Thomas is a perfect fit. Because Dylan is a natural leader, Thomas obviously takes more of a leadership role in the movies than in the books. This seemed inevitable considering he’s the most recognizable actor of the main cast. What truly convinced me that Dylan was a perfect Thomas was his reaction to Chuck’s death. Thomas’s reaction felt just as emotional and authentic in both the movies and books.
What I enjoyed in the first film was Will Poulter’s portrayal of Gally. I didn’t like Gally very much in the books, but Will Poulter brought life into his character. Gally is at odds with Thomas and his friends which is a focal point of the story. Their dynamic is well acted out with both talented actors showing a lot of drama and passion. This was the highlight of The Maze Runner by far.
The ending gets a lot of flak because it doesn’t make much logical sense of how a solar flare caused a widespread virus that destroyed most of humanity. I’ll admit that it doesn’t make sense in the books either. Plus, why would WICKED test a bunch of teenagers, most who are immune, and put their lives at stake? Its almost basically the same ending in the books except with a few adjustments. Regardless, I give it a pass because the characters are what carry the story.
My biggest gripe of the first installment is the lack of or should I say the absence of Thomas’s and Teresa’s telepathy that was essential to the books. This decision clearly allowed for a floodgate of plot holes and questionable decisions by the characters who seem to do things by instinct. The plot holes are thoroughly explained if you have read the books, but not everyone reads the books. Your enjoyment with the first installment is greatly improved if you have read the first book.
Overall Score: 8/10
Most Valuable Character (MVC): Thomas
The Scorch Trials
Like the books, The Scorch Trials is my least favorite. At the very start, it was clear that this trilogy deviated from the books. At first, this bothered me. However, I came to accept it because I didn’t know what direction they would take the films. I thought the first 30 minutes or are fun. Very action-heavy and a fun escape sequence from WICKED by Thomas and his friends. They end up in a mall where they are chased by Cranks. A very heavy running scene no doubt that was exhilarating. The ending was as equally entertaining despite the main story not being loyal to the books.
What ticked me off was the portrayal of the Cranks. In the books, they are a hybrid of your typical zombie in a post-apocalyptic world, and a semblance of a person. This is similar to I Am Legend where the Darkseekers are infected vampires, but they have some of their humanity intact. Cranks can talk and aren’t totally insane as in your standard zombie story, but there is a point called the Gone in which the infected loses their humanity and will act violently towards others. Making Cranks into another generic zombie movie trope that has been done to death was disappointing. Had they not gone this route, I think The Maze Runner would have felt less like a zombie film and more like its own original work.
The middle portion of The Scorch Trials is a drag. The most notable thing to happen was Winston succumbing to the Flare. I thought the acting was well done in his scene. Jorge and Brenda do appear, but they don’t feel as important as they did in the books. I do want to point out a deleted scene that takes place after Winston’s death which involves Thomas and Newt talking at a campfire. I don’t understand why this was removed from the final cut because it vividly shows the strengths and weaknesses of both characters. The scene demonstrates them as we see them in The Death Cure. It is a rare instance of strong character development that solidifies their friendship. Had this been put in the final edit, I would have given the film another half a point. Other than that, The Scorch Trials is a generic zombie movie with good acting and action sequences, but nothing unorthodox.
Overall Score: 7/10
Most Valuable Character (MVC): Thomas
The Death Cure
Thank goodness this wasn’t split into two parts! I’m looking at you Twilight and The Hunger Games. The Death Cure was released 3 years after The Scorch Trials. It was originally set to come about a year before that, but Dylan O’Brien (Thomas) suffered an injury on set. Anyhow, The Death Cure was a fine conclusion to the trilogy. Nothing too crazy or jaw-dropping, but I appreciate the effort there was put into this movie. I’m thankful for the main cast who cared enough to bring out the best in each other. The action is clever in this final installment. Director Wes Ball is a genius at finding creative ways to keep the action fresh without repeating the same thing over and over. The world-building and CGI usage are top-notch for a budget of about $65 million. Although it made the least at the box office of the three, it was still profitable and part of it was the actors who many people agree are very talented.
Before I get to the two major deaths, I want to point out a huge deleted scene that was removed from the theatrical version. Similar to The Scorch Trials, it involves Thomas and Newt. What makes this perhaps the most egregious removal of all the deleted scenes is because Newt reveals that his fractured leg is a result of his attempted suicide that occurred back in the Maze. In the books, this is a huge revelation, but for some reason was taken out in the movie. I don’t see the harm in removing this well-acted scene that would have further cement Newt’s character arc as a tragic one. The best dialogue of the movie wasn’t even in the final cut and it left me scratching my head as to why it would be considered bad to keep it.
Okay so I’ll admit that Newt’s death did make me sad, though not as sad as in the books and that’s likely because I read them a few days before. I was emotionally drained by reading the books that I lost my energy the two weeks I crammed the entire Maze Runner series. The sequence alone between Thomas and Newt is truly amazing. Though it didn’t exactly play out like in the books, the two actors crushed it. It was the best moment of the trilogy had it not been for the deleted scene that I mentioned earlier. The music was also tense and melancholy hitting on every note. So as a fan of the books, I was satisfied with arguably the most iconic scene of the entire series.
Speaking of Newt, did you know he’s ranked “#1 On Movie Characters We Didn’t Want to Die?” on the top tens website? No seriously, he’s above Mufasa from The Lion King.
I should point out the actor who played him did absolute justice for the character. You may know Thomas Brodie-Sangster from Game of Thrones. Regardless, I want to mention that the actor was dedicated enough to making the best character possible by putting a pebble in his shoe, This would help remind him that Newt had a broken leg. Arguably, his best work is in The Death Cure. From going insane as a result of the Flare to begging his best friend to put him out of his misery in quick succession was mighty impressive. It deeply reminded me of Chapter 55 in the books and that is truly a testament to Sangster’s performance that I didn’t think would be possible after reading The Death Cure. Even the harshest of critics have agreed that Thomas and Newt were the film’s greatest strength.
And the letter, oh boy. That was one of the few things the movies did better. My eyes got watery reading every single word come out of his mouth. Supposedly, the letter was written by Sangster himself and read it out loud in real-time to Dylan O’Brien as the scene was being filmed. The letter was more of a farewell to their characters, who like the actors, became friends in real life. Dylan’s reaction is genuine as Sangster reads the letter to him. A fitting way to end the series.
The other major death was Teresa’s which I thought was sadder in the movies than in the books. I think that’s largely because of Kaya Scoldelario’s performance. She was admittedly great and more sympathetic this time around. If you read the books, Teresa is much more unlikable there once you find out the big plot twist. Anyway, Teresa was conflicted about whether to help WICKED find a cure or help her friends destroy WICKED. She chose the former and Newt paid with his life. This made her feel guilty for the damage she had done. In exchange for her actions, she attempted to redeem herself by saving Thomas and giving up her own life in the process. She couldn’t live with the thought that she was largely responsible for many deaths.
The Death Cure had a better ending than The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. There I said it. Okay in all seriousness, I have to explain why that’s the case. Mockingjay should have never been split into two parts. The ending dragged for far too long. Although The Death Cure was a little too long for its simple story, it had a much more powerful ending that didn’t drag for like 30 minutes. Oh, and fun fact, the last line of dialogue was done by Newt, so that’s a plus.
Overall Score: 7.5/10
Most Valuable Character (MVC): Newt
Ultimately, The Maze Runner movies are enjoyable for what they are. I don’t consider them great stories or anything that would constitute as groundbreaking. Evidently, the books were better, but when was last time you heard it was the other way around? Never and that’s fine so long as the movies respect a good portion of the source material. Although the stories diverged into two distinct plots, which was somewhat disappointing but understandable, I suggest trying to pay attention to every word of dialogue, especially the deleted scenes that I mentioned. I focused a little more on the characters because the books did a phenomenal job with them. The casting is wonderful and the actors really cared about making the characters in a book trilogy who were already amazing even better. These are the series strength by a mile. All of that gets a near-perfect score and I thank these talented people for being faithful to the characters they portrayed.
What the Movies Did Better
-Dylan O’ Brien as Thomas brought life and charisma to the character who was okay in the book trilogy.
-Will Porter as Gally made me appreciate the character more in the movies than in the books.
-Aiden Gillen as Dr. Janson was much more present and easier to hate.
-Newt’s letter was more refined and complex.
What the Books Did Better
-Cranks should have been adapted like in the books.
-Minho should have gotten more lines in the movies.
-Character depth is lacking for some which can be filled through reading the books.
-A good mix of action and memorable dialogue.
What Both Did Great
-Thomas and Newt’s friendship is centered in The Death Cure, both respective actors and characters carry the entire series.
-The action was thrilling and exciting.
-World-building was compelling and interesting.
-No cheesy or forced love triangle.
-Great acting and casting choices.
-Dylan O’Brien (Thomas) and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt) were faithful to their characters .and were the clear standouts. Both actors have great chemistry and it shows.
-Clever and heart-pounding action sequences.
-Beautiful world, aesthetics, and CGI usage.
-Ingenious use of music.
-Amazing sound design.
-Better than most YA movie adaptation.
-Unoriginal story even when it didn’t follow the books.
-The main story is still overshadowed by Thomas and Newt’s friendship, which the latter is far more interesting.
-Deleted scenes that should have been put to further emphasize Thomas and Newt’s friendship.
-Cranks are basically zombies which makes it another generic zombie movie.
-Minho didn’t get much screen time and dialogue.
-As a standalone movie trilogy, it lacks the necessary substance, thus there are some plot holes.
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