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Review: ‘The Maze Runner’

Once in a while, I force myself to withhold writing a review for a movie. I choose to wait a few days before actually sitting down and unfolding my thoughts for anyone who cares to read them.

In the case of The Maze Runner, we have a film that has proven more polarizing than expecting. That is, more people are walking out of the theater satisfied than I think analysts predicted. I’m one of those people, and I’m more sure of this now even after coming across negative reviews elsewhere.

I’ve never read the trilogy of books that The Maze Runner is based on, which is good news for the majority of people who are reading this. After all, fans of the books have likely already decided whether or not this film is worth watching.

maze runner

So to be clear, I went into The Maze Runner with a blank slate, much like how the film itself begins.

The film opens with Thomas, a teenage boy who wakes up in an ascending elevator. He’s frantic, and we soon realize why. Thomas has no idea where or even who he is. And he’s greeted by a gathering of fellow teenage boys who share the same affliction.

It’s a great narrative device to give your main character amnesia from the start. It allows the audience to immediately connect with Thomas and learn the rules of the world alongside him. It’s an easy, but effective way to immerse your audience.

maze runner

The story is a fun and thrilling ride, as the “rules” of the world continue to be challenged by newcomer Thomas. The boys live within the “Glade,” a spread out field that lies within the center of a deadly maze that towers over them.

At night, the walls of the maze close. This ritual protects the boys from dangerous creatures that would kill them outright. During the day, the “runners” explore the maze in an attempt to find a way out. But if they don’t make it back before the walls close…well, let’s just say that no one survives a night in the maze.

The boys are sent to this place with amnesia, though they gain their memory within a day or two. They know that someone is doing all of this to them, since a new “Glader” is sent to the maze every month with fresh supplies.

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The characters Thomas interacts and forms relationships with are unique, rather than placeholders for the most part. You’ll likely find them endearing, especially if you enjoy the “Lost Boys” aesthetic.

Speaking of, I found it particularly refreshing to watch a YA adaptation that is more about adventure and science fiction than a coming-of-age romance story. It probably helps that the main set of characters are boys, and it’s fun to watch a group of hapless teens try to create their own society.

Put simply, this is a story about survival. Not politics. Not forbidden romance. Just getting through the day.

maze runner

As the film progresses, Thomas’s curiosity creates new problems for the residents of the maze.  This culminates when a girl ascends in the elevator soon after Thomas (too soon) with the note that she is the “last one ever.”

This of course leads to all-out chaos that sparks a believable and gripping third act, with an ending that I honestly didn’t see coming.

To be fair, elements of The Maze Runner are quite predictable. And some execution of the ideas presented are more derivative of similar YA fare akin to Hunger Games.

maze runner

But if you stick with these characters until the very end, you may find yourself pumped for Act II, which has unsurprisingly been green lit early by Fox thanks to strong box office numbers.

The Maze Runner is certainly not a runaway hit, though. At least when you compare it to other YA franchises that have been proven moneymakers. It’s collected $81 million worldwide in its first weekend, which isn’t anything to scoff at, especially when you consider it only cost $34 million to make.

So we can expect another one of these movies (The Scorch Trials) in the near future. And judging by the strong performance by Dylan O’Brien (who happens to be one of my favorite actors and can be seen on MTV’s Teen Wolf), a sequel could make Fox’s investment truly pay off.

maze runner

This is no Hunger Games-killer, but it’s certainly a welcome departure from tired outings such as Divergent and The Giver. One of my few complaints is that the film tragically under-utilizes Kaya Scodelario (Effy from Skins), who’s probably wondering why she didn’t join her friends in Game of Thrones.

Her character, Teresa, is more of a plot device than an engaging character, which is a shame since she happens to be one of the only girls in the film. Still, we can hopefully expect more from her character in coming installments.

Is it worth watching?

maze runner

Yes. The Maze Runner is an easy film to sink your teeth into, if you’re willing to sink your teeth into it. The story, lore and characters ultimately work because they are as simple as they elegant. And of course, the special effects are expertly handled to make this world come alive.

The Maze Runner was directed by Wes Ball and is based on the series of books written by James Dashner. It stars Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario.

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The Pixar Detective, Chapter 12: “The Agreement”

Hey everyone! Welcome to The Pixar Detective, a serial novel I put together based on the Pixar Theory. The following is a fictional story that explains the theory that all of the Pixar movies are connected and exist within the same universe, using original characters and artwork. The story answers a lot of questions you may have about this theory, but through its own ongoing narrative.

The story originally launched in April, and since then we’ve finished Part 1 and Part 2!

Both are available as iBooks on iTunes, which you can check out here. If you can’t use iBooks, can also download the PDF versions:

Part 1: (PDF version)

Part 2: (PDF version)

Once you’re finished, check back to our Table of Contents, where we’ll be continuing the story through Part 3. A new chapter is released every two weeks on Tuesdays. And please be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for us to read through. Enjoy!

Previously on The Pixar Detective

Stevin Parker and Wallaby Jones are on a mission to find their missing friend, Mary, whose entire house (save for her room) vanished without a trace.

pixar detective

Along the way, they’ve traveled through time and made some new friends, including a monster named Mr. Sumner (who has grown accustomed to Stevin’s shoulders) and a super-powered girl named Sadie.

During their desperate attempt to escape Agent Willem and his team at the Hexagon, the team traveled through a door to a new time, but they had to leave their mentor, Alec, behind.

logan

Meanwhile, a new team is investigating a group of monsters who are kidnapping children. The year is 2001, and the Australia-based group is led by a girl named Cara and her super-powered cousin, Logan. The girls are descendants of powerful supers, including UltraViolet. Along with them are several “unique” monster hunters named Rudy, Cochran and Madus. Together, this unlikely team is setting out to prevent a “2319” — all out war between monsters and humans.

 

Use the prompt on the sidebar to subscribe for updates or just follow me and Kayla on Twitter to stay connected – @JonNegroni – @KaylaTheSavage

What is the Best Young Adult Book Movie?

This week on the Agents of FILM podcast, we talk Maze Runner and the future of young adult book adaptations being Hollywood money-makers (or not). Plus we evaluate upcoming movies that will try to be the next Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Twilight.

Maria also talks about her interview with Michelle Monaghan (True Detective), and we go over which films we think you should check out next week.

(On the go? Download the audio podcast here.)

Cool things we mentioned:

Maria’s interview with Michelle Monaghan.
Supergirl confirmed for CBS.
Deadpool movie confirmed for Fox.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

Why We Hate Destiny’s Story (And How It Could Have Been Way Better)

If you’re reading this as someone who is looking into buying Destiny, please wait until the end of this article before you let my opinions influence your purchase decision. If you’re reading this as someone trying to make sense of the confusing mess that is Destiny, then I hope this write-up puts your thoughts into coherent words.

The game in question is a recently released sci-fi epic available on Xbox One, PS4 and last-gen consoles. There’s been a lot of hype for this game as being one of the first “true” next-gen games to show off what’s next in gaming.

But if you’ve recently read a review for Destiny, then you’ve likely come across this exact sentiment: “It’s fun, but blah blah, story.”

destiny

I’m doing the same thing with this post, sort of. Except I’m digging deep into the why behind Destiny’s clumsy execution. Especially when you consider how Bungie spent a whopping 5 years putting this thing together (and hundreds of millions of dollars).

Destiny is a fascinating game. What’s even more fascinating is the fact that Destiny’s flaws are just as fascinating as the things that make Destiny a fun game.

But not even all of that fun in this FPS/RPG/MMO (first person shooter/role-playing game/massive multiplayer online) can save it from one thing that no one seems to like: the story.

destiny

This is especially sad for me, because the story of any game is just as important as the gameplay and graphics. Or at least the reason behind what you’re doing in the game.

That said, a good narrative doesn’t have to be the main reason for why I want to play a game.

Take Titanfall for example. In that game, there’s hardly a story, but I still enjoyed it.

But with Destiny? Also not much of a story, but that’s a bigger problem than with Titanfall. Why? Do I hate Bungie? Do people just hate Bungie for no reason?

destiny

That’s an obvious “no.” The Halo franchise is one of the most celebrated sagas in gaming history.

There are a lot of reasons for why Destiny’s story doesn’t work. And those reasons contribute to why everyone is so disappointed with Bungie’s latest outing. I’ll sum it up on word:

Expectations.

One of the main things that makes a story great is surprise. If the person experiencing the story has a hard time predicting the outcome of the story, then that increases the chances of them being pleased by what does happen.

The main way to make your story “surprising” is by being creative. Originality for the sake of originality doesn’t accomplish much. But creativity for the sake of telling a good story does more for your story than clever names for your characters will ever do.

destiny

Destiny tries very hard to create immersion. And they set your expectations very high by creating a world that you want to be immersed in. But ultimately, the writers had it backwards (I don’t know why).

Immersion doesn’t happen unless the story behind your world is compelling.

The world of Destiny, though curiously interesting, is hardly compelling. And Bungie made some rookie errors in that respect.

For example, the removal of a “codex” so that you can pester people into visiting your website is 100% a stupid decision. Specifically, the game will choose not to give you a back story into a certain event or character because you’re expected to stop playing and check it out on Bungie’s website.

destiny

That’s so wrong, it’s Raven. Bungie is essentially asking you to step out of the immersive world they’ve created to increase traffic to their own website. It doesn’t look good for them, and it’s certainly inconvenient for you.

The other problem is that if you don’t want to visit Bungie’s site to get more info on what the heck is going on in Destiny, then good luck figuring out what the heck is going on in Destiny.

These are relatively minor problems, though. Bungie could easily fix them in Destiny 2 or even the next update (not that they will). But there’s a bigger, deeper problem with the story and world of Destiny.

Conceptually, it’s an artistic mess. Let’s break that sentence down.

Conceptually: what makes Destiny, “Destiny.”
Artistic: what makes Destiny interesting and unique.
Mess: mess.

destiny

Destiny is a game full of good story ideas dressed up in overcomplicated flair. It has a cool structure, but to be simple: it tries too hard. It just tries way, way too hard.

The good story ideas come down to the setting and overall plot. Earth in the distant future? Fine. Takes place all over the solar system? Cool. Even the character designs and classes are somewhat new and interesting.

But when you go deeper, you find that everything else about the game is horribly generic. And when you combine generic execution with a creative foundation, you get, well, an artistic mess.

If you’ve played the game, yourself, then you know what I’m talking about.

destiny

The only people around (pretty much at all) in this world are called Guardians. First of all, that’s boring in and of itself. You never meet or talk to anyone who isn’t a fellow darkness-attacker.

I had to ask myself too many times, “Just who am I fighting for in this game? The guy with the mask? Myself? Peter Dinklage?”

And of course, “Guardians” is one of the laziest names they could have used as a classification. What isn’t a “Guardian” anymore these days? It’s a horrendously overused and uninteresting word at this point. Same goes with Hunters. Sure, Titan and Warlock are an improvement, but not by much.

The game is littered with odd naming choices like this. The Crucible (the hub for multiplayer) was “Mass Effected” just a couple of years ago. Sure, that one instance doesn’t ruin the name, but it does for plenty of people who are sick of seeing that word all over their video games and movies (and Arthur Miller novels).

destiny

And if you thought “Guardians” was lazy, then wait until you hear Peter Dinklage go on about “The Darkness.” You know your game’s story has a problem when it reads like a young adult novel by Stephanie Meyer.

And your robots are called “Ghosts?” Bungie (and Activision), we are sick and tired of everything being “ghosts,” especially since Call of Duty named an entire game after the concept a year ago. In Destiny, it doesn’t even make thematic sense that your robot companion is a “Ghost.”

Again, these are all simple problems that, on their own, don’t deserve much scrutiny. But all of these cringe-worthy story elements combined seriously prevent gamers from enjoying what Destiny has to offer in terms of gameplay and beautiful settings (of which I have little complaint, actually. The story is that bad).

destiny

And we haven’t even gotten to the story of the story — what’s driving you from going on those tedious fetch quests that barely vary, if at all. As you can imagine, it’s easily the game’s biggest, most obvious problem.

Because odd choices in your world and aesthetics can easily be forgiven if you have an engaging story with memorable characters.

Destiny doesn’t (really) have characters at all. Don’t get me wrong, it has placeholders. Characters, though? Can’t say I came across one.

The only character we actually get to know and listen to is our Ghost companion, voiced by Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). His role is essentially “male Cortana.” And that’s about all the thought they put into him.

destiny

[The role of Cortana merged with the design of 343 Guilty Spark, basically]

All he does is direct you on your missions. He lets you know what you’re supposed to be doing, what to look out for, and he provides occasional insights into the ever-elusive backstory of this strange, postapocalyptic world.

The problem? All of these things are the same, essentially. Your missions are astoundingly similar to each other, and the script reads as if it were put together in a matter of minutes.

This is mostly evidenced by Peter Dinklage’s clear boredom as he voices his character. Yes, it’s so tedious that Tyrion himself can’t find much to like about it. Some people want to blame him for the dry performance, but it’s not his fault if he has nothing interesting to talk about.

It’s easy and sort of necessary to compare Destiny to Halo, which is Bungie’s true claim to fame. The “magic” of Halo just doesn’t exist here, even though the games are fairly similar to each other (and not just when it comes to gameplay).

With Halo, you had a simple story set within a fascinating world. Even the aliens were the stars. That’s why Elites, Grunts, Jackals and Hunters would remain memorable figures as Halo aged.

destiny

Destiny, in comparison, is a complicated story set within an even more complicated world (and forgettable enemies). In Halo, my mission was straightforward. I was a powerful soldier (with other soldiers at my side to prove my scale) trying to survive on a mysterious world.

Many good games have this kind of simple story structure to draw you in. Far Cry 3 starts with the imperative that you have to save your friends on an island filled with dangerous pirates. Mass Effect is all about stopping a madman from resurrecting a genocidal race of super aliens. Fallout just comes down to surviving the nuclear wasteland.

But in Destiny, it’s not clear what I’m trying to do or why I’m anywhere the Ghost sends me. There’s no intrigue. No motivation. I’m lifted out of the rubble and told to join some movement, without a second thought (kind of what Destiny expects out of us as gamers).

destiny

I just shoot evil aliens. That’s enough, I suppose, to justify buying it. But it’s nowhere near enough to say that Destiny is a special game.

And a simple explanation for all of these problems is the oft-cited observation that Destiny has a bit of an identity crisis. It tries to be all things to all people, and this lack of focus makes the overall game suffer.

I would add that Destiny is also an example of why a good recipe is more than just combining two things. Because on paper, the game should work pretty well — it has all of the things we like about Halo, Call of Duty, and the best MMOs — but it’s not any better than the sum of its parts.

destiny

And the saddest thing about all of this is that it doesn’t take a professional team of writers to make a better narrative than what we got. My own version, if this project was handed to me, would be as follows:

Centuries after Earth was abandoned for unknown reasons, a coalition of humans and robots returned to the Solar System to recolonize the still resource-rich worlds. But they find that new, feral species have appeared, and they’re organized. Thus begins a war for who will reclaim the Solar System. Will it be the “new” humans? Or this seemingly selfish race of aggressive “aliens” that (Plot twist!) actually inhabited the Solar System long before humans, making them the rightful rulers of Earth and the rest all along?

I came up with that on the fly. Bungie on the other hand had years to churn this out, and the best they could come up with was the same “humanity versus invading alien forces that vaguely look like robots. Again.”

destiny

Here’s just one more take on the Destiny universe:

Centuries in the future, the Solar System is abandoned. No one knows what happened to humans, who were on the brink of faster-than-light travel before they mysteriously disappeared without a trace. New governments and migrating species have since colonized the 8 planets (and Pluto), but a struggle for control ensues when a schism divides the Solar System into two warring factions. You’re a member of an order of scavengers who loot the battle-torn areas of this conflict. But in your pursuit of fortune, your order encounters an even more dangerous secret that could change the galaxy forever. 

Seriously, Bungie. Step it up.

destiny

Overall, Destiny is a mindless game. But while other mindless games get a free pass, Destiny doesn’t because it wants you to think it’s not mindless. By dressing up its world with seemingly creative ideas that fall short of your expectations.

But, and this is a big but, Destiny is still (miraculously) worth playing if you like good shooters with some RPG elements. In those respects, the game excels and is addicting fun. You just have to immerse yourself out of the story to better enjoy it.

What do you think of Destiny?

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

The Pixar Detective, Chapter 11: “2319”

Hey everyone! Welcome to The Pixar Detective, a serial novel I put together based on the Pixar Theory. The following is a fictional story that explains the theory that all of the Pixar movies are connected and exist within the same universe, using original characters and artwork. The story answers a lot of questions you may have about this theory, but through its own ongoing narrative.

The story originally launched in April, and since then we’ve finished Part 1 and Part 2!

Both are available as iBooks on iTunes, which you can check out here. If you can’t use iBooks, can also download the PDF versions:

Part 1: (PDF version)

Part 2: (PDF version)

Once you’re finished, check back to our Table of Contents, where we’ll be continuing the story through Part 3. A new chapter is released every two weeks on Tuesdays. And please be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for us to read through. Enjoy!

chapter 11 pixar detective

 

Previously, on the Pixar Detective

pixar detective part 1 coverIn the year 2014, two kids embarked on a mission to find their missing friend, Mary. The friends, Stevin Parker and Wallaby Jones, teamed up with their mysterious teacher, Alec Azam, who mentored Mary in the arts of magic and traveling through time by use of doors.

Along the way, Stevin and Wallaby gained new allies, including a monster from another world and a girl with dangerous superpowers. Eventually, they were forced through a door that would lead them to the location of their next clue: Sydney, Australia.

 

Use the prompt on the sidebar to subscribe for updates or just follow me and Kayla on Twitter to stay connected – @JonNegroni – @KaylaTheSavage

What Was the Best Movie of Summer 2014?

Let the debate begin. There were plenty of enjoyable big screen outings this summer, but which one was your favorite? The best?

On this week’s episode of the Agents of FILM podcast, we answer that question as best we can. And stick around for the end of the show to hear about new films that will be coming out this weekend.

You can watch the show below, or download the audio version here.

Cool things we mentioned:

 

Thanks for Reading (and/or Watching)! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

Robert Downey Jr. Just Revealed the Fate of ‘Iron Man 4’

Will there be yet another Iron Man installment?

Sadly, no. At least if Robert Downey Jr. is to be believed. Variety got ahold of him at the Toronto Film Festival recently for an interview, where he broke the news.

“There isn’t one in the pipe,” said Downey Jr. “No, there’s no plan for a fourth Iron Man.”

He did mention that he’s signed on for at least two more Avengers sequels. That includes “Age of Ultron,” which will be coming out next May. As well as the third Avengers film in 2018.

iron man 4

This is important news because Iron Man is the first of Marvel films to open during the “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” It was the first to complete a trilogy (with Captain America, Thor, and perhaps even Hulk to finish their own within the next few years).

If there won’t be an Iron Man 4, then should we also believe that the rest of the MCU films will follow suit?

Fourth installments are rarely successful, with films like Rocky IV being the rare exception. It makes sense why Marvel Studios would want to shy from over saturating these franchises, and the fact that Disney is really running the show is important to note. Disney is, after all, notorious for avoiding big budget/big screen sequels.

Still, this could mean that we won’t see a standalone Iron Man film for a long time. Perhaps as a reboot with a new actor. And right now, it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Robert Downey Jr. being the man inside that armor.

Thanks for Reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

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