There isn’t much you can do to save a film if the script is poor—but every once in a while a film will possess qualities that can help mitigate the weakness of the source material. For instance, with an action driven, post-apocalyptic tale like Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials you can hide a lot of bad with inventive production design.
If the visual elements that inform a world are compelling and well executed they can help take the audience’s attention away from gaping plot holes, generally poor performances and a story that loses its way in the second act. And while your production design on Scorch Trials doesn’t raise it above competent it does save it from being a complete waste of time.
Your work on this film—from the creatures that inhabit the burnt out hell hole that Earth has become, to the design of the government’s special forces uniform—was outstanding. It is a difficult thing to create the details of an imagined world, to strike a balance between plausibility while still remaining visually compelling. Somehow you managed to walk that line throughout this otherwise forgettable mess of a film.
In the same way that every clichéd character in this film meanders aimlessly through the umpteen nameless, deserted cities that dot the landscape of this world, the plot follows the same path. There was never any kind of internal logic established that went beyond a kind of Pavlovian response to stimulus. The characters are saved by a mysterious group that is not at all what it seems—so characters flee into The Scorch (a term that rocketed pretty quickly from mildly hyperbolic to annoying by dint of overuse). Characters are threatened by (super creepy and well articulated) mutants—they flee. Characters are also chased by mysterious government agents with opaque motivations—yep, more fleeing. Finally the characters end up at an ostensibly mythic sanctuary and are betrayed by one of their own (which normally would be a spoiler but that piece of plot was so telegraphed, and telegraphed so early, that it was nothing but inevitable—yawn).
This kind of plot can actually work just fine, if it is handled correctly. But since no one in this film is anything other than a ‘character’—who is going to give a damn about what happens to any one of them? That is not only a failure of the script but of performance as well. No one in this film, not even Patricia Clarkson (all hail), gives us anything at all to hang on to. The direction, aside from a couple of lovely images involving characters in silhouettes trudging through the waste, is pedestrian at best. The whole project has the feel of either a paycheck generator or people padding their resumes. It seems that no one is actually engaged with the material beyond a baseline kind of expediency.
Well, almost no one. You managed to bring something to the table, Dan. And all of us who sat through Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials thank you for your effort. The visual landscape you articulated made the unbearable slightly more bearable and gave me something positive to write about instead of simply pouring venom onto the page.