Teenagers shall inherit the world in Wes Ball’s Maze Runner: The Death Cure

While definitely not in the target audience, and without expressly setting out to do so, I’ve still somehow managed to see all three Maze Runners. Their easy availability on streaming services is just too tempting for my chronic addiction to escapist sci-fi.

It’s interesting to see how young adult fiction contrives such scenarios where adults are absent, subservient, or villains. Like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games, the Maze Runner movies are constructed upon the trope of there being one single girl or boy born with the inherent destiny of rescuing a world that the older generation has squandered. I’m sure kids are not blind to how the genre panders to them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not cathartic for them to imagine themselves bearing cataclysmic responsibilities in life-or-death, world-ending situations.

While none of the Maze Runner films are very good, I did appreciate the first’s relatively straightforward Lord of the Flies pastiche (with the caveat that the premise allowed for only one female character — inexcusable in this day and age). As the original title helpfully elucidated, the hero’s journey was to simply escape a maze, which of course came equipped with a minotaur. But the original quest is accomplished, the title becomes essentially meaningless in later installments. To be fair, their subtitles “Scorch Trials” and “Death Cure” are also silly, so I guess cool-sounding nonsense is part of the whole package.

Wes Ball’s The Death Cure is a bloodless PG-13 zombie war movie for kids, and almost preposterously long at almost 2 1/2 hours. But it does boast some exciting action sequences, however wildly illogical and coincidence-dependent. The opening rescue of captives from a caravan is an effective emulation of Mad Max for kiddos, and the aerial ensnare of an entire bus near the end is impressive.

The young cast is… fine, if a little bland except for an impassioned Thomas Brodie-Sangster (doomed to be known as him from Love Actually). Like Kate Winslet in Divergence, Ashley Judd in The Hunger Games, and every grownup in Harry Potter, a handful of respected respected veteran indie actors take up the slack: Patricia Clarkson and Aiden Gillen as baddies-with-actually-rather-complex-motivations, and the Giancarlo Esposito Drinking Game (take a swig every time he says “hermano”, and you’ll be on the floor long before the end).

Guess what’s coming to dinner in Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl is warm, funny, and moving, but felt a little “screenplay” to me. Aside from the indie film cliche of The Small Town (which affords an isolated community of eccentrics and an economically small cast), it seems to be a precisely workshopped exploration of a simple compelling premise: a man falls in love with a sex doll (and yes, these particular models are, uh… real). Even Better That the Real Thing?

However, the fine script and performances really do sell the unlikely conceit. Ryan Gosling makes a potentially unappealing character very sympathetic, and indie queen Patricia Clarkson is so sublimely calm (watch her respond to each outrageous development in Lars’ life with a blink and a pause) that I suspect she would make a great shrink in real life.

If I were in a screenwriting class workshopping this script, I think perhaps I might point out one missing aspect: we see the town pull together to support Lars, but would they do so for just any citizen? I’m not sure there’s a sense of why they’re especially protective of Lars in particular.