Saturday 7 May 2016

Films: The Maze Runner II (2015); and The Hunger Games IV (2015)

I reviewed the original The Maze Runner film in June last year, and concluded as follows:

"This is a better film than I had expected: more original, darker in tone and more gripping than most YA fare, with the gradual unravelling of the mystery at the heart of it intriguing adults as much as the target audience. While this particular episode ends with the film, there is clearly much more to be resolved with the conclusion blatantly teeing up a sequel.  So it's just as well that the film was a commercial success, with the next episode due to hit the cinema screens in the autumn. I will be looking forward to it with rather more interest than I am to the final part of The Hunger Games."

Sadly, The Scorch Trials came nowhere near living up to my expectations. It continues the story without any break or recap, leaving this viewer struggling to recall what had led up to it (makers of film sequels seem to assume these days that viewers watch the original again immediately beforehand, but I don't have time for that).  The intriguing aspect of the first film – the maze of the title – disappears and is replaced by a series of dark and dilapdated settings through which the youngsters are constantly being hunted, either by the bad guys from the first film or by people transformed into hideous, violent monsters by disease. All in all it's much more like a horror film than SF, and I found it barely watchable. To make matters worse, the reason for the interest in the young protagonists turns out to be something inherent to them, which was easily determined by the bad guys – so what was the whole Maze scenario for? Maybe that is clear in the books, but unless I blinked at the wrong moment it wasn't explained in the film.

Very disappointing – I am normally a completist but unless the next episode sounds very much better I won't be watching it.


And so to Mockingjay Part 2, the finale of The Hunger Games about which I have had mixed views throughout. As all sequels seem to these days, the film picks up immediately where the last one left off, without any sort of recap to refresh the memory.

The plot is straightforward: the rebels, with Katniss Everdeen as their figurehead, are advancing on President Snow's headquarters. So it is mainly a running battle as an elite team of games victors fights its way through a series of booby-traps to approach their destination. Part of this involves advancing through tunnels deep underground which are – guess what? – populated by hideous mutants who savagely attack them. These scenes are pretty much interchangeable with the ones in The Scorch Trials mentioned above.

There are a couple of twists at the end of the plot to add interest, but I think that the last two of the series would have been much better combined to achieve a more tautly-plotted screenplay. However, the tendency these days is to spread out a successful franchise as thinly as possible in order to maximise profits, so this is what we get.

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