Probably, if Maze Runner is any indication.
Here’s the thing–I enjoyed Maze Runner. I like Dylan O’Brien (like, a LOT). It’s a well-put-together movie, lots of action, excellent suspense (as my friend Hannah can attest to, I was literally on the edge of my seat for large parts of the movie). It’s making a decent amount in the box office, not Marvel money, but hey we can’t have everything. I also liked the book–I’ve read the first in the series and I will likely read the rest.
So why, when I was leaving the theater, was I not excited for the upcoming sequel?
I love The Hunger Games. I devoured the books, I love the films and I am eagerly awaiting the last two installments (though I am annoyed that studios have realized if they split books into unnecessarily multiple movies they’ll make more money. Curse you, basic business strategy!). I also loved the Divergent book and film, and I am similarly excited for the upcoming films. But there was something about Maze Runner that left me cold.
One of the core aspects of YA dystopia (and I suppose would be an aspect of adult dystopia if such a thing exists) is social commentary. Divergent is about a world that has responded to war by rigidly structuring both society and their citizens and anyone who steps outside these rigid boundaries is met with suspicion and violence. The Hunger Games is also about a world responding to war with rigid control, only it has the added layers of decrying consumerism and celebrity culture. The Giver is about a world that is “perfect,” because it is a world without the memory of pain (or, in fact, memory of any strong emotion at all).
Maze Runner is about torturing children. I mean yeah, so is Hunger Games, but unlike The Hunger Games, Maze Runner has no additional social commentary to elevate or even explain the horrific things these kids are forced to do. (Spoilers) These kids are trapped in the center of a maze, with no memory of who they are, only their names. “Maze runners” run the maze every day, mapping it and searching for a way out. They return to the Glade (the center of the maze) by nightfall, or else risk being caught and stung by horrifying, gigantic, insect-like creatures called Grievers. They fight their way out of the maze, only to discover that the world outside has been scorched by the sun, and most of the people who didn’t die were wiped out by a virus. The second generation of humans (the generation these kids belong to) have some sort of natural immunity or resistance to the virus, so the government (or possibly a separate organization?) decided to run tests on these kids and see how “tough” they are, to prepare them for the world. It’s mindless, it’s cruel, and it doesn’t make us think about the society we live in today. (End spoilers)
So what’s next? If we’ve moved away from dystopia-with-social-commentary and into dystopia-for-the-sake-of-dystopia, the death of the trend can’t be far behind. Or I should say that death of the success of the trend. Ostensibly the final nail in the vampire/werewolf/monster trend coffin (if you’ll excuse the expression), was Twilight, but that didn’t stop 2011’s The Wolfman (34% on Rotten Tomatoes), 2011’s Red Riding Hood (10% on Rotten Tomatoes), 2014’s I, Frankenstein (4% on Rotten Tomatoes), or the upcoming Dracula Untold, which will probably score 1% on Rotten Tomatoes if the current trend continues.
And Maze Runner has been decently received by critics (63% on Rotten Tomatoes, right on the cusp between Fresh and Rotten), but The Giver did considerably worse (35%–solidly “rotten”). Even Divergent, which I noted earlier was thematically a deeper dystopia than Maze Runner, only got 41%.
This won’t stop 20th Century Fox from making the sequel, The Scorch Trials, into a film, and as long as the sequel makes decent money they’ll likely make the third book, The Death Cure (jury’s still out if they’ll make the prequel, The Kill Order). The bottom line is as long as these movies make money, they’ll keep making more. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do think that in 5 years we’ll all have moved on to something else.
My money’s on YA cyberpunk. Cinder, the first book in the Lunar Chronicles, has been optioned for a movie, but the studio is being kept under wraps and it’s a fair bet it’ll be stuck in development hell for a couple years. Who knows? If the YA cyberpunk does well maybe we’ll finally get the Neuromancer movie we’ve all been waiting for.