Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Release: Friday, September 18, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: T.S. Nowlin

Directed by: Wes Ball

All this running and what, no exhaustion? One would think these kids were all born Olympians but in the interest of staying alive, I suppose running is what one must do. Wouldn’t it be funny though if Thomas just suddenly stopped in his tracks and pulled a Forrest Gump . . . and not the spry, hungry-for-life Forrest Gump we most often recall, I’m talking about the generally-over-life Forrest Gump: “. . . I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.”

Actually, I’ll admit that that was something I said towards the end of this ever-plodding, aimless sequel to last year’s sci fi adventure about a group of boys who are herded together and put into a mysterious maze-like complex with little chance of escaping, and even less chance of getting laid, but I guess that’s not part of it. Where the franchise-opener benefitted from originality — a relative term seeing as though this marks yet another Young Adult film adaptation designed to entertain all those youngsters with fewer things to say to one another thanks to their nifty iPads and SnapChat customizability — The Scorch Trials retreats into the shadows of its predecessor.

Wes Ball continues feeling uninspired in his adaptation of the James Dashner series, expanding the setting from a cramped ‘maze’ to a world overrun by sand dunes and crumbling edifice, assuming bigger automatically means better. The Scorch refers to the territory that lies beyond the confines of the facility Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) have since been taken to having escaped the glade. This is a place where they can mingle with the many other maze survivors. While they have been provided comfortable beds and proper meals three times a day, Thomas is unable to shake the feeling that they’re still under the control of WCKD, a mysterious organization supposedly created to find a cure for whatever nearly wiped out the entire human race.

The compound’s leader, a thoroughly generic Aiden Gillen (through no fault of his own) as Janson, tries to ensure Thomas that nothing sinister is afoot. But because Thomas is The Chosen One, he doesn’t believe him and has to find out what’s really going on. He meets loner Aris (Jacob Lofland) who shows him a secret passageway that leads them to discovering the horrible truth: indeed this place isn’t a safe house, it’s a testing laboratory. Indeed, this is as dystopian as The Scorch Trials gets. Bodies hooked up to machines, aligned in row after row after row as far as the eye can see. A literal body farm. The scene is fairly reminiscent of Neo’s horrifying discovery when he wakes up in the Real World after taking that red pill.

Finally, enough’s enough for Thomas. He decides he’s going to flex and bust out of this facility, taking along with him his loyal followers despite their hesitation. The remainder of the film sees the group, with the addition of two newcomers in Dexter Darden’s Frypan and Alexander Flores’ Winston, venturing out into the wasteland where they face death at the hands of zombie-like creatures known as Cranks, death by brutal exposure to the sun, and death by starvation, which appears to be the last thing these hardened warriors are going to succumb to. Even with scant resources, these kids seem impervious to hunger pangs. Thomas sets his sights on locating a group of mountain-dwelling people, survivors who have banded together to form The Right Arm, a primitive army ready to strike back at WCKD for their experimentation on whatever remains of mankind.

It is with this outlying community — the sequel’s raison d’être — Thomas attempts to join forces and plot a retaliation against WCKD. It helps to think of Thomas as a diet version of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas, leading his fearless (or just speechless) men and a couple of female survivors of another maze into battle against a likely insurmountable force. I suppose this development, especially after miles of plodding through desert, generates some excitement for the next chapter, The Death Cure. The Scorch Trials does end in a rather intense gunfight that, while wholly predictable given at this point in the film anything fits into that category, by comparison feels quite thrilling.

By the time we’ve stopped running it’s unfortunately all too apparent that The Scorch Trials is a tread-water sequel, offering too many action set pieces and too few character enriching moments. O’Brien still isn’t a very engaging screen presence, though he’s far from unlikable. Save for Barry Pepper, who pops up out of nowhere as a bearded post-apocalyptic hippie named Vince and Giancarlo Esposito as the mysterious Jorge, the adult roles either aren’t worth discussing (Patricia Clarkson and Alan Tudyk apparently are in this movie) or they simply don’t exist. That’s less of an issue in the grander scheme of things though, as I’m confident there was enough adult supervision on set of this middling action adventure flick aimed at audiences still having to sneak into films with an R rating.

Recommendation: I should probably emphasize this review is written from the perspective of someone who has not read the book series, nor the prequel series. I typically do not read source material before seeing a film but in this case, I’m wondering if having prior exposure to this world might enhance at the very least the performances. Having some sort of comparison between what the director gets right and what he chooses to do away with (according to some that was actually quite a lot) might’ve added to the experience. As a newcomer, I just couldn’t find a way into this. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “I’m a Crank. I’m slowly going crazy. I keep wanting to chew off my own fingers and randomly kill people.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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14 thoughts on “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

  1. Awesome work here, Tom! I thought The Maze Runner was relatively entertaining (not great, but it did what it came to do) and so made the mistake of reading the novel. Holy crapsticks, it irritated me endlessly! I actually never even went back to read more, and Abbi vehemently advised against it, so I just skipped out. Sounds like this movie wasn’t grand. Will check it out at some stage I suppose.

    • Oh man, I know you really enjoy reading so that’s like the equivalent of me walking out on a movie. If something’s really truly awful I will still try to stick it out b/c, hey, I’ve paid money for this! Haha. Bailing on a book? That must be rough. I could believe it though, cuz while I think this franchise so far has been enjoyable enough, the writing and the characters are just so bland and uninspired it’s a chore just to keep up with the watching part. And watching takes so much less effort than reading. Give it a rent and see what you think. 😀

      • Teehee, yep, that’s exactly what it is like. I stuck out the first one but I just couldn’t do anymore. I will watch this and see where it goes though, but I agree. The characters are so flat and bland. In fact, they have more going on for them on screen as opposed to in the books :/

        • I will definitely keep that in mind. Dylan O’Brien (who plays thomas) is actually pretty likable. I don’t have anything against the guy. He’s just flat as a pancake, as they say. 😉 I am very interested all the same to see what they can offer with The Death Cure. I honestly didn’t think I was going to see this one in theaters, and yet, here I am!

  2. Love that poster (and the review, of course)! I actually kinda liked the first movie, alhough didn’t have a lot of expectations for this. Looks like those limited expectations have been met. It was only ever going to be a DVD rental anyway!

    • A good rental it shall be, sir. There’s nothing offensive about Scorch Trials but that might be part of the whole problem. . . it’s too. . . safe. And formulaic. Visuals are spectacular, though, I’ll give it that.

  3. Been meaning to watch in theaters, but I think I’m going to wait for the inevitable Netflix/HBO appearance, which is what I did for the 1st one. I actually liked the first half of the first movie, which I found very very strong. But once the second half came around, it almost undid all of the good stuff from the first half.

    Hearing that this has good action but does nothing to clarify or build on the story. Middle of the road as you described. Good review man.

    • Absolutely nothing will be lost by skipping the theatrical version and renting it at home. Plus you’ll be able to pause and later resume all of the boring parts (of which there are many) so I actually think that was my downfall. Going to pay to see it in a relatively uncomfortable and crappy local cinema. lol

  4. “Wes Ball continues feeling uninspired” HA. Loved it

    Really, this series never appealed to me, literature or movie. Sounds like I made a good call to ignore it.

    Great review as always!

    • Muchos gracias. To be perfectly honest there’s nothing really wrong with these movies, they are just so much the definition of middle-of-the-road it’s frustrating. This movie unfortunately loses some of the mystique that the first one had, being set within this weird, prison-like maze and all. But you’re not going to hurt by missing out on this series, that’s for sure. 🙂

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