Tag: ki hong lee

Maze Runner: The Death Cure


Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

One of my main criticisms of “The Scorch Trials,” the direct predecessor of “The Death Cure,” the final chapter of “The Maze Runner” series, is the filmmakers’ inability to focus on which type of picture they wish to create. The middle chapter, while still entertaining as a whole, introduces questions regarding ethics and morality, particularly the subject of consent when it comes to a person partaking in scientific experiments, which impede the breathless momentum of action sequences.

The good news is that such limitation is no longer an issue in “The Death Cure,” based on the novel by James Dashner and adapted to the screen by T.S. Nowlin, because it has made a choice of becoming a full-on action picture, a finale that relies heavily on special and visual effects coupled with convincing sound effects that truly place us amidst the chaos. The bad news, however, is the material assumes that we already know all there is to know about its characters. There is significantly less intrigue here compared to its predecessors. An argument can be made it is all action, no substance.

But a film must be judged by what it aspires to be. As an action film, it moves well despite a hefty running time of almost one hundred forty-five minutes. It helps that the action sequences are grand, but never complicated, and it is a requirement that we understand what is at stake. Perhaps the best example is the excellent first scene where Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito) set out to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from WCKED (Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Kaya Scodelario). The train heist is exciting and beautifully executed from top to bottom. Creativity partnered with handful of close calls are employed just like in action movies that demand attention. Had the material managed to keep up such high level of craft, viewers might have forgotten entirely that the film is based on a young adult novel.

But there must be pauses between action where characters speak to one another and decide what to do next. While the dialogue is convincing and never syrupy, especially when it touches upon potential romantic connections, the exchanges fail to go beyond what is required. We do not learn extra, possibly extraneous, information about the central characters aimed to provide viewers another level of connection to the main players. In fact, at times I had the impression that the more silent moments are a chore to shoot. Certainly there is more passion and enthusiasm put into the action sequences compared to the more intimate moments—with the exception of one which reveals the fate of a particular beloved character.

Directed by Wes Ball, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” offers an occasionally eye-popping closing chapter to a solid series. Perhaps the best thing about it is the charisma of the cast because each face is memorable and every character has a distinct personality. Because there is room for improvement, I can envision the series being remade ten to twenty years from now. Hopefully without the identity crisis.

Wish Upon


Wish Upon (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Mainstream horror pictures of today require an immediate and complete overhaul. Too many are unambitious and unfinished, some completely missing a critical third act designed to provide the catharsis necessary that paves the way for a satisfying experience—or at the very least a semblance of it. “Wish Upon” belongs in the dumpster of generic would-be horror films with nothing on its mind except presenting one expository sequence after another. It is utterly without suspense or thrills, not even one likable protagonist who plays a key role in deciphering the mystery and defeating the evil introduced.

It is a shame because the performers seem game with the roles they are provided. Joey King is a believable high school student, ordinary and unpopular, who just so happens to come across a music box with ancient Chinese characters all around it. It appears to have the power to grant its current owner seven wishes which, of course, comes with a cost. King is able to summon the required emotions of a teenager on the verge of breakdown, particularly during the latter half when the evil within the artifact has begun to push Clare to keep wishing… even though she knows she must not make any more.

Although a horror film, it is not at all scary. Instead of amplifying our curiosity about the item of interest, writer Barbara Marshall chooses to showcase one death sequence after another. I found it tedious, boring, lacking inspiration. Some of them are quite laughable. If I wished to watch elaborate death scenes that offer genuine suspense and tension, I’d watch the first two “Final Destination” movies instead. At least these films not only offer creative ways for characters to die, the main players are actually given the opportunity to explore or attempt to find ways to defeat the entity that hopes to end their lives.

There is a lack of drama underneath the horror elements. The most effective pictures in the genre are rooted in accurate or empathetic characterizations. Clare’s situation at home with regards to her relationship with her dumpster-diving father (Ryan Phillippe) in addition to the trauma she still feels twelve years after her mother’s suicide is handled with a lack of genuine understanding. One gets the impression that the writer simply takes familiar elements of what is perceived to be a difficult childhood and utterly fails to put them into proper context. The conflict comes across as fake.

Worse is its treatment of teenagers. All are one-dimensional bores: the popular clique that bullies (Josephine Langford, Alexander Nunez, Mitchell Slaggert, Daniela Barbosa), the snarky, sassy friend (Sydney Park) contrasting with the quieter one with spectacles (Shannon Purser), and the boy who pines from afar (Ki Hong Lee). They are to serve as potential victims or mere provider of reaction shots. Considering that this movie’s target audience is teenagers, one would expect for the filmmakers to treat these characters with more empathy or given them more substance.

Directed by John R. Leonetti, “Wish Upon” has a promising cast but is nearly a waste of time overall because the filmmakers neglect to tell a genuinely curious or thrilling story about a girl who finally catches a break with the help of a magical box. Had those in charge opted for a more intelligent route—detailing the object’s history or the evil inside it, for instance—rather than mindlessly delivering death scenes with the most expected rhythms, perhaps it might have delivered above average entertainment. I wish I had not wasted my time in watching this bottom-of-the-barrel, pedestrian blather.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials


Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Having been rescued from The Maze, which turned out to be a sick experiment, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers (Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Alexander Flores, Dexter Darden) thought they have found sanctuary. Their refuge is short-lived, however, when a Glader from another maze, Aris (Jacob Lowland), suspects that there is something sinister going on in the facility where they are staying.

Thomas and Aris investigate and discover that bodies of young people—unconscious, suspended in air, with tubes coming out of them—are being harvested. Thomas and his team escape the facility and take their chances out there in The Scorch, an area of desert land devoid of resources, where there is death… and disease after death.

“The Scorch Trials,” based on the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin and directed by Wes Ball, makes the mistake of being a sequel that is reluctant to expand its fascinating mythology. Thus, even though the action sequences are kinetic, energetic, and often thrilling, one cannot help but feel there ought to have been more substance—from character development, providing a picture of how the world was like prior to the disease called the Flare, and an explanation of how the disease works biologically. At one point, I felt as though the writing were simplified in order to appeal to the general public.

The chases are executed with a sense of danger and urgency. They do not only occur at night or in the dark although these are the more memorable sequences, particularly one that takes place in a seemingly abandoned shopping center. The director does not mistake shaking the camera relentlessly for suspense. Ball knows when to keep it still, how to quiet a scene, and build a certain eeriness to make us believe in a lived-in world where most of humanity has perished. I am actually interested in seeing Ball handle a horror film since zombie-like creatures run amok here.

What separates this series from lesser dystopian stories is the content of the dialogue. Not once are we ever made to sit through two lovers trying to express their romantic feelings for one another or how much they are willing to sacrifice to be together. Instead, especially toward the third act, characters talk about the trauma of the past, missing memories, passing of friends or loved ones, and not knowing with certainty whether someone they care about is alive or dead—and the torment that comes with it.

As much as I enjoyed the adrenaline-fueled chases and observing how the infected looks (which varies as a group depending on the area), I wished there had been more smaller, quieter moments where these teenagers are allowed to hold extended conversations in their bunks, by the fire, or atop a cliff. These more personal moments work because the cast are composed of real performers capable of invoking the necessary expressions, intonations, and body language to make the scenes convincing. These are not just people who have the right bone structure to look good for the camera.

The villains are not completely established as complex characters—confounding because Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen are actors who are capable of saying a lot by standing in one place and simply breathing a certain way. There are a few lines that hint or express that these two are doing the terrible things they do for the sake of the greater good, but the screenplay does not show enough of their humanity. As a result, when they do something horrible, they still come across like one-dimensional antagonists.

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” ought to have had more script revisions in order to reach a balance so that the final product is both an entertaining science fiction thriller and a thoughtful rumination of morality and ethics in connection to our modern society and where we might be heading. Despite its shortcomings, the picture is worth a mild recommendation with the optimism that the filmmakers will take a bit more time to really think about what kind of work they wish to create and get the next one exactly right.

The Maze Runner


The Maze Runner (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

His memories erased, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a cage-like elevator, soaking wet, as the clunky box makes its way up to the Glade, a place where a community of boys, known as the Gladers, has formed over three years. They have no idea why they were sent there. Their life is defined by a consistent attempt to find ways of making it out of the surrounding labyrinth which just so happens to change every night.

Come daytime, a gate opens and Runners like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Ben (Chris Sheffield) go into the maze, memorize its geography, and try to recognize patterns. While, in theory, it should be relatively safe while the sun is out, it is always a possibility that one might not make it out in time before the gate closes and massive spider-like creatures, known as Grievers, come out to hunt.

Directed by Wes Ball, “The Maze Runner” is an entertaining, story-driven, mysterious, and suspenseful adaptation of James Dashner’s best-selling novel. It is clear that the picture’s strength lies in the rising action because it concerns itself with details, from the specific roles the boys have undertaken in order to create a working community to the curious maze begging to be deciphered. Because the screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin is able to establish the rules with clarity, when such rules are inevitably broken, it is all the more engaging to watch the twists and turns unfold.

It is refreshing to see an adaptation of a young adult novel showcasing a diverse cast. It helps on the most elementary level because there are a handful of characters worth knowing. And yet the film does not rely on race in order to make us remember whose role is what and where one’s allegiance is placed. We get to know what makes Alby (Aml Ameen) a good leader beyond having a strong but not overbearing personality. We get to know what Minho makes a good Runner beyond being able to run fast and being observant. We get to know what makes Thomas the wildcard—the key element that threatens to overthrow a stable existence that has reached a dead end.

I wished, however, that Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the very first and only girl to be sent to the Glade, had been given more background. Unlike Alby, Minho, and Thomas, we do not get a real idea what makes her special—what specific characteristics or talents she has to offer that might help to establish herself as a critical fragment of the group.

Scenes that take place in the maze demand attention. Especially engaging are sequences where towering metallic structures move on their own and our protagonists are very close to becoming pancakes. Add massive spider-like creatures into the mix and one comes to appreciate an increasing sense of foreboding and danger.

Very close calls made me pull my limbs closer to my torso. At times I even found myself yelling instructions at the screen. It isn’t that the characters exercise bad judgment; it is because the thrills and suspense come hard and fast, left and right that I found myself unable to contain my excitement. Those who have a fear of tight spaces will absolutely get a kick out of this one.

There is a line or two in the film that claims everything is there for a reason in the maze. While certain revelations during the final fifteen minutes might not be convincing enough to some audiences, it worked for me because the answer(s) is not something I would have guessed. It sets up a promising sequel that is likely to feature an entirely new environment and set of challenges. Usually, I dislike attempts made to set up the next chapter. They are usually cheap, obvious, and tacky (Andrew Niccol’s “The Host” quickly comes to mind). Here, it is done with class and curiosity. I felt the protagonists’ emotional and physical exhaustion. But it does not mean they have nothing left to give. This series deserves to continue despite what box office numbers might imply.