Review Round-Up: January 26


Review Round-Up is kind of like Rotten Tomatoes, but more human.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Dir: Wes Ball)

Ben Kenigsberg of the New York Times has surprisingly sympathetic things to say for the teen dystopian action franchise you forgot about: 

But as silly as they sound, these movies are pretty well made, capable of outsize action and teary intimacy. The director, Wes Ball, knows how to move his camera around a futuristic medical compound, and the filmmaking brio — especially the sights of Earth’s last city, shot in Cape Town — mitigates the eye rolls prompted by the plot.

The venerable (though the jury is still out on their late-2017 redesign) A.V. Club concurs. Jesse Hassenger’s praise for the film is both reluctant and tepid—compelled largely, one suspects, by The Maze Runner’s underdog status—but the review is positive nonetheless:

As it turns out, with hardly anyone outside of hardcore Maze Runner fans (and however many supplemental moviegoers it takes to get within range of $100 million domestic) paying attention, the runty little brother of The Hunger Games has gotten surprisingly proficient in that area of well-produced sci-fi junk where a lot of the dialogue consists of variations on, “Go, go, go!”

The film’s director, Wes Ball, is frequently cited as a reason this third film kinda almost works, against all odds. Apparently style saves a film that is otherwise a jumble of young-adult tropes and dystopian cliches. What turns out to be a less favorable review by Emily Yoshida over at Vulture singles out Ball as well, if not for making a good film, at least for making it less painful than it could be: Ball and his “engaging cast” are “able to wordlessly communicate dynamics and histories that I’m grateful the script did not spend too much time rehashing.”

Decidedly less positive, though still appreciative of Ball’s action sequences, is Christy Lemire at

For better and for worse, it’s an overwhelming experience. And just when you think it’s over, there’s another coda, and then another. The music will swell to a crescendo, signaling our need to experience peak emotions and planned catharsis, and then there are more loose ends to be tied up, more overly explanatory narration to endure.

You can read a certain amount of fatigue in each of these reviews, and not just because, at two hours, the film is a tad long, or because the experience itself is overwhelming. Yoshida notes with discernible relief that the YA-dystopia craze is fading. May we be so lucky.

Hostiles (Dir: Scott Cooper)

Peter Bradshaw at The Guardian appreciates the look—and even the drama—of the film, but finds something lacking in its handling of its purported moral material:

The violence of the white pioneer and the Native American in the old West are set up against each other, and (tacitly) declared to be of tragic equivalence, though eligible to be redeemed by gestures of good faith and unexpected romantic developments. The beauty of the landscape and the violence of its human inhabitants are evidently supposed, in their respective extremities, to add up to something. But what?

To my mind, if indeed the violence of white settlers and that of Native Americans is portrayed as equivalent in the film, Bradshaw isn’t outraged enough. Surely Native American tribes fighting whites committed terrible acts, but that doesn’t make the two sides equivalent. The Allies committed atrocities during World War II, but that doesn’t make their crimes equivalent to the Nazis’. Portraying a genocidal force as equivalent to those desperately defending themselves against genocide is ideological; no matter what moral quandaries the main (white) characters face, the project of such a film is equivocation: “but everyone was murdering!” This equivocation draws our attention away from who the original aggressors were, who is most responsible for the bloodshed, who committed the greatest crimes, and who benefited from these crimes.

Godfrey Cheshire at is more attentive to this particular flaw in the film, ending his review with the observation that Hostiles is

a film that’s beautifully shot and acted, but also meandering, overlong and only sporadically focused on its central issues. As for its politics, in making the story primarily about one (white) man’s redemption, “Hostiles” falls back on a well-worn if still potent dramatic trope while saying virtually nothing about the genocide committed against Native Americans.

The film, by all accounts, seems to add nothing new to our Western mythos, inasmuch as it approaches racism and war from an exclusively white perspective. In all, I would recommend you just re-watch Fort Apache (1948). It’s not not-chauvinist, but it is a harrowing drama about white racism and bloodlust—a version of the Old West story that, from my impression, Hostiles adds little to.

Please Stand By (Dir: Ben Lewin)

This indie dramedy is eliciting some conflicting appraisals. The story concerns a young woman on the autism spectrum who is travelling across California to enter her Star Trek spec script in a competition. (The script, for those of us in the know, sounds a lot like the concept behind the classic DS9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations.”) For the A.V. Club’s Mike D’Angelo, the film’s handling of autism is same-old, same-old: 

By the time Patton Oswalt shows up for a winking cameo as a cop who defuses a situation by speaking to Wendy in Klingon, Please Stand By has lost all touch with reality. It’s just another instance of equating autism with kookiness.

Slate’s Marissa Martinelli, who betrays a little more partiality to Paramount’s sci-fi franchise, disagrees, writing that

It’s a relief to see Wendy played as more than simply a bundle of symptoms. While her color-coded sweaters, nervous knitting habit, and deep well of Trek knowledge might seem quirky—she is in an indie comedy, after all—she’s also a fully realized person who is determined to prove that she’s been underestimated, while also showing off a softer side, which we see in her interactions with kids and babies along her trip.

I’m inclined to favor the former perspective, not only because its account of the representation of people with autism rings more true, but also because I prefer its relative neglect of Trek discussion to Martinelli’s apparent enthusiasm for the current “Treknaissance.” Sorry, everyone, but the Abrams movies and Discovery suck. I’d rather go on watching repeats of TOS, TNG, and DS9 (400 episodes of television!) for the rest of my life than feel obligated to witness all the half-cooked ways that CBS-Paramount wants to revamp Star Trek.

Jeanette Catsoulis in the New York Times has somewhat reserved praise for Dakota Fanning’s performance, but goes after the film for reasons similar to D’Angelo’s:

… despite her commitment to the role — and the generally fine supporting performances — this timorous tale sidesteps uncomfortable realities in favor of soothing whimsy and preordained uplift.

Catsoulis’s brief snippet of a review doesn’t cover the film in very much detail, but it does find time to mistake Worf’s rank, referring to Starfleet’s only Klingon officer as “Lieutenant Worf.” Worf was promoted to Lieutenant Commander back in 2371; come on.