Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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Movie review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m still playing catch up with the summer movies, so let’s review a picture that some people (small numbers of them as it tanked at the box office) saw last month. It’s King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.

IMDb summary: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.

A few general thoughts on the background of the movie: 1. I’m actually a fan of the 2004’s version of King Arthur. It used to be one of my favorite nonanimated childhood movies and the archery sequence on the lake combined with Lord of the Rings: Two Towers final battle were two reasons why I took up archery. 2. While the trailers for the film looked fine, I never expected it to succeed at the box office or to turn a big profit. Neither the two leads are big box office draws, nor is the mythology that the film is based on a hot property. So, bearing that in mind, who, the hell, approved a $175 million budget for this picture?

Writing

2017’s King Arthur’s screenplay was credited to the director Guy Ritchie, producer of HP films Lionel Wigram, and, the writer of the new Robin Hood and The Flash movies, Joby Harold. The Judge’s director David Dobkin contributed to the story as well. In general, the writing was of mixed quality. I thought that the narrative (broadly speaking) was fairly straightforward (an hour of Arthur being called into action, and another hour of him attempting to defeat Jude Law’s character), however, the details within the story were really convoluted and even confused (there was too much happening at once).

Thematically, the concepts of egoism and power were suitably touched upon. The ending teases of the round table and all the knights were also pleasant. Other than that, since I don’t know much of King Arthur mythology from the legends, I can’t comment on the stuff they did or didn’t use.

The script also made a lot of interesting choices with the characters. For example, Arthur was written as a witty, talkative and borderline cocky individual – all these ideas are in opposition to the Arthur I’ve alway imagined – serious, reserved, yet quietly proud (basically, the 2004’s movie’s version). Still, overall, I was quite pleased with a different take on a character. I have also seen a lot of complaints online about the female characters of this film, mostly the lack of them. I can definitely see where these people are coming from – a few female characters that are introduced are either sacrificed, portrayed as obese or sexualized tentacled mermaids or are used for decoration purposes. And yet, the main mage character was also a female and she did shine in the movie and displayed her powers (really vaguely defined ones) in a spectacular fashion. The informant female character did not have much to do but at least she was present. Hers and Jude Law’s characters interactions were actually quite neat.

Directing, Editing and the Soundtrack

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s and RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes’s director Guy Ritchie helmed King Arthur and did an okay job. The high fantasy medieval setting (which I’m a fan of) was realized quite well (I’m a sucker for the combination of good historical costumes, sword fights, archery, and magic). The epic scope of the film was also worthy of praise. However, the mediocre CGI was quite infuriating, especially in the movie that cost this much to produce. The action scenes – filmed in a video game-like close-ups and slow motion – could have been better too.

The elements of the film, which are the most discussion worthy, were editing and sound design/mixing. The soundtrack on its own (by Daniel Pemberton) was really good and it was, at times, inventively paired with the visuals. However, some combos of image and music did not work. However, even in the bad combos, the song choices weren’t as unfitting as they were in Suicide Squad. A lot of these combination sequences were edited in a music video style – a lot of jump cuts, short snippets of dialogue, and a fast pace. On their own, these sequences seemed quite unique and entertaining (their explosive energy was amazing). However, when these quick sequences were followed by long, drawn-out scenes of people sitting and talking, the final effect turned out to be quite jarring and the whole film – uneven.

 

Acting

  • The two leads of the film were played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law. I really liked Hunnam in the titular role and would love to see him getting more cinematic roles but I doubt that that will happen, due to the poor box office of this picture. He previously played the lead in the Pacific Rim and a supporting part in Crimson Peak. The Lost City of Z is his other 2017 release. Jude Law’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Genius, Anna Karenina) performance, to my mind, was the best part of this film. He looked good (his armor was basically the silver version of Dominic Cooper’s armor in Warcraft) and he seemed menacing. In the final battle, I would have rather seen him fighting in the said armor rather than a generic CGI monster (his evil form). I also thought that the announcement of Law as the Young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts sequel will give this movie a boost and some free promo but it doesn’t seem like the said casting news helped much or at all.
  • The two female characters were played by theFrenchh-Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey from Pirates 4 and by The Mummy’s Annabelle Wallis. I really enjoyed the cool and collected performance of Bergès-Frisbey.
  • King Arthur also employed the talents of two GOT actors that can’t seem to espace the middle ages – Aidan Gillen (Baelish) and Michael McElhatton (Bolton). Gillen (who was also recently in Sing Street) did a good job and I could see shades of Baelish in his performance, while McElhatton’s role was just slightly bigger than a cameo.
  • Another two actors, whose involvememnt is worthy of mention, were Djimon Hounsou (Guardians, The Legend of Tarzan) and Eric Bana (The Finest Hours). They both did a fine job with their limited screeentime.

In short, King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword was, to my mind, not as bad as everyone said. The filmmakers made some weird choices with the editing and music (at least they tried something different) and did overcomplicate the plot which lacked (sort of) female characters, and yet, I was still pretty entertained by the final product.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword

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5 ideas about a movie: Sing Street

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’m continuing my series of ‘catch up’ movie reviews. Today, the focus is on the critically acclaimed indie picture Sing Street.

IMDb summary: A boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes.

  1. John Carney (who I only knew as the director of the musical drama Begin Again) wrote and directed this picture. At the core of Sing Street, he placed a coming of age tale, that everybody has seen before. However, he executed this particular kind of story  immaculately. It felt very personal and relatable – maybe because it was semi-autobiographical. Sing Street centered on young adults in Ireland in the 80s, which alone helped the film to stand out (the only other film that has relations to Ireland that I can name is Brooklyn). In addition, the narrative was very clear and cohesive, while the set-up – quick but not rushed.
  2. Sing Street managed to find a balance between fun and seriousness. It was an upbeat and inspiring story placed in a grim setting of poverty, abuse, and family drama. It’s quirky and dorky in the best way possible. Sing Street was a celebration of art and artistry and it showed that rebellion against the societal norms is not a new thing. I also loved the fact that this feature focused on the relationship between brothers and portrayed the elder brothers as guides and trailblazers.
  3. As I have mentioned, John Carney directed Sing Street and did a neat job. I loved the personal aspect he brought to the film with some handheld camera shots. I liked how he realized the setting of the 80s Ireland (enjoyed the wacky fashion especially) and how he paid homages to the pop culture of the time. Back To The Future homage sequence was both cool and entertaining.
  4. Sing Street featured some amazing tunes from the 80s as well as original songs by the titular band of the film.  A whole bunch of people worked on the music for the picture, including veteran composer Gary Clark, some members of the band Relish, Graham Henderson, Zamo Riffman and even Maroon5’s Adam Levine. As a fan of 80s music, I really loved all the songs. Moreover, it was interesting and refreshing to see a film which focused on more traditional styles of music in contrast to the recent films that had EDM as their subject (We Are Your Friends, XOXO).
  5. Sing Street also had a great and diverse cast. The majority of the young actors, like Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Lucy Boynton, were/are quite unknown but they did such a good job that I think this situation will soon be fixed. A few familiar faces also appear in the film, including Game of Thrones’s Aidan Gillen and Transformers 4’s Jack Reynor who completely surprised me, as I had basically already written him off after the last Transformers movie. Turns out, he is actually a pretty good actor.

In brief, Sing Street was both light and serious coming of age tale, with a unique temporal and spatial setting. The music was also top-notch.

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Sing Street trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the highly anticipated The Hunger Games finale rolls into theaters in November, let’s review the latest entry in a different dystopian franchise, which ultimately will be compared to both THG and Divergent series’ films with or without its permission. Let’s talk about Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

IMDb summary: After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.

The first thing that I would like to mention when talking about this film is the speed at which it was made. The first film in the series (review) was released in September of last year and the studio only greenlit the sequel when they saw, how much money the first film made. So, this means that they had less than a year to shoot and edit the second installment. For me, that seems really fast. Some movies get stuck in stages of pre-production or production for years and this one was shot, edited, advertised and distributed in 10 months time. Usually, such a short production period suggests that the movie was rushed and, consequently, might not be great. Thankfully, that’s not the case with The Scorch Trials.

Book&Writing

As some of you may know, this film franchise is based on a book series by James Dashner. I loved the book series and have read all 3 novels before going to see the first film. Now, I don’t really remember  all the details from the book, but can tell you that they changed a lot of it. However, as I have said numerous time before, I don’t care if the film’s creators alter the plot because I treat the book and the movie as two separate mediums and two different interpretations of the same story. Still, it’s interesting to see what is the same and what is different between the book and the motion picture. Though, which story is better is definitely not the argument that I want to have here.

Anyway, as much as I remember from the book, I can tell you that they did change much. While all the main points of the story were similar and mostly all of the characters from the book made it into the film, the details of the plot differed a lot. To begin with, the Gladers escaped from the facility at the beginning of the story for completely different reasons. Teresa and Thomas couldn’t communicate telepathically, so their relationship wasn’t that well realized in the film as it was in the book. Also, tattoos/title tags on the necks of the Gladers were not present in the film. These tags really raised tension between the characters in the book, so if they would have used them in a film, maybe we would have gotten some more character development/ conflict/dialogue and not just a lot of running. Lastly, the book had no Right Arm subplot and the ending of the film was very different from the ending of the book. However, I can at least imagine how they can get Thomas to a place that he was supposed to be in at the end of The Scorch Trials if they decide to follow the 3rd book a bit more.

The film’s screenplay was written by T.S. Nowlin, so those of you who like the book’s and film’s story to be exactly the same can be angry at him. (Please, don’t be!). Nowlin wrote the screenplay of the first adaptation and will probably be writing the script for the last film as well. He doesn’t have any other writing credits on his IMDb page, but he has produced a few independent films. I applaud his efforts on The Scorch Trials because he handled a plethora of characters and variety of different events, which influenced each other, quite nicely.

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Directing

The movie was directed by Wes Ball. He has also directed the first installment, so there is no shift in the tone. The wide shots in the Scorch were realized beautifully, especially when you could see the profiles of all the characters. Action scenes were also exciting and fun to watch. If Ball returns to direct The Death Cure (an adaptation of the last novel in the series), he said that they won’t split the film into two parts, which I’m very happy about, so I do hope that he returns. That film is planned to be released in 2017, so they will have more time to actually produce it (update: the movie was pushed back to 2018 because of Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set). In addition, Ball is set to direct an adaptation of Fall of Gods – an epic Norse fantasy. I would love to see that one as well.

Visual effects

This movie, as a lot of other dystopian/futuristic films, had a lot of CGI in it. The landscapes were beautiful and the zombie-like-creatures, who were sick with the Flare virus, were scary and ugly. Everything looked very realistic, especially when you factor in the cost of CGI and the budget of this film. The 1st Maze Runner was made for only 35 million dollars, so I don’t think that they’ve spent  a lot more than that on the 2nd film as well. At best, the studio could have given them 50 to 60 million dollars to work with. Other dystopian films cost a lot more, for example, Mockingjay Part 1 had the budget of 125 million dollars, while Insurgent was made for 110 million. To my mind, all of these 3 YA adaptations have the similar level of computer effects, so props to The Scorch Trials for saving money. And yes, I know that big name actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley have much bigger salaries than Dylan O’Brien, but even if you take that into consideration, The Scorch Trials still has the smallest amount to spend on visual effects.

Acting

This movie had a lot of character and all of them were realized quite well with a limited amount of screen time. This movie also received a lot of praises for how diverse its cast is.

  • Dylan O’Brien as Thomas was a great leading man as in the first film. He is a great sidekick on Teen Wolf, but he was great in the main role in this film as well. I also liked that he was a leader without a plan. I know that this makes him seem like a shitty leader, but that’s just the realistic portrayal of a young adult in the situation that Thomas was in.
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt and Ki Hong Lee as Minho are one of my favorite supporting characters of all time. I just love the trio that they and Thomas make. In addition, I loved how the director gave some screen time to both Newt and Minho to shine in the action scenes.
  • Rosa Salazar as Brenda and Kaya Scodelario as Teresa were the two very different female leads. I loved how they only implied the love triangle aspect of their story. They set up the twists in the stories of both girls quite nicely as well. On a side note, who would you like Thomas to end up in a long run? Even though, one of them might not make it till the end…
  • Nathalie Emmanuel as Harriet was a supporting character at the end of the film. She is the 2nd of 3 Game Of Thrones actors appearing in this film. First one being Thomas Brodie-Sangster and 3rd one being….
  • Aidan Gillen as Janson. He literally played the futuristic version of Littlefinger. I have no idea if I ever will be able to see actor Aidan Gillen and not think about his iconic role.
  • Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge was a nice addition to the cast. Weirdly, while reading the book, I always imagined him to be much younger, but he worked really well as an older father-like figure.
  • Alan Tudyk as Marcus and Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige provided great support to the film as well. Alan’s line after Thomas’s speech at the end of the film mirrored my reaction to the same speech perfectly and although, Ava’s role as the evil adult from the government in YA movie is a cliche at this point, she was good in it.
  • Jacob Lofland as Aris Jones, Dexter Darden as Frypan and Alexander Flores as Winston were also great secondary characters and did a great job with what limited screen time they had.

All in all, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a great adaptation of YA novel as well as an improvement in the franchise. I might be biased, because I am a fan of the dystopian genre, but I highly suggest you go see this film for a number of reasons, for example: if you want to see a male lead in a YA movie after a bunch of female-driven films, if you want more action than you got in Mockingjay Part 1, if you are a fan of any of the up-and-coming actors that are part of this huge cast or if you just want to have a good time at the cinema.

Rate 4.5/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

P.S. The review of the 1st film – The Maze Runner – is my most viewed post ever, so I guess this franchise has quite a few loyal fans or at least plenty of people who are interested in it.

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