6.5 out of 10
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Cast:
Dylan O’Brien as Thomas
Directed by Wes Ball
After getting out of the Glade, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the survivors arrive at a shelter for observation by the mysterious Janson (Aidan Gillen) who seems to have good intentions to try and help them. Thomas has his doubts and when he sees something that’s not quite right, he and the others escape out into the desolate desert known as The Scorch where they have to fend off attacks from the infected while searching for the sanctuary known as Safe Haven.
Admittedly, I’m a fairly recent convert to the latest attempt at bringing a young adult science fiction novel to the screen, in this case James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner” series. I’ll also admit I’ve never read any of the books, so if you’re looking for any sort of direct comparison to the text, then you might want to look elsewhere.
The Maze Runner was quite refreshing, maybe because science fiction that works in print rarely translates to the big screen and it was a definite exception, being a young adult movie that didn’t have all those doe-eyed teenage girls falling in love and screwing things up (kidding!), as it set up a post-apocalyptic world that felt different from other movies in the genre. The Scorch Trials continues the tradition of apocalyptic movies like The Omega Man with a larger group of protagonists. While it’s commendable that director Wes Ball has returned for the second movie considering the rarity these days for a film series to have a single director, The Scorch Trials ends up being so different from The Maze Runner that it’s partially its undoing.
At first, the movie feels more contained and smaller than the first movie, maybe because the entire first act takes place within the underground barracks. It’s pretty obvious Janson doesn’t have the Gladers’ best interest at heart even before Thomas discovers that those immune to the Flair virus are having their blood harvested to find a cure. When the Gladers manage to escape out into the Scorch, it’s where the movie starts attaining the scope that made the first film so impressive.
From there, the Gladers’ journey alternates between them running from infected–basically your garden variety fast zombie–and other dangers while encountering new people along the way. That’s one of the most notable differences from The Maze Runner – there’s more locations and situations Thomas is thrust into, but the first movie also benefitted from having a smaller tight-night group of characters as well. The entire time they’re trying to escape the science organization WCKD–and seriously if you’re going to be even remotely evil, maybe you should pick a different name?–there’s paranoia about who to trust as Janson continues to pursue the Gladers throughout the movie.
Ball is actually a pretty decent director, maintaining tension in the action set pieces, especially when the film veers more into the horror realm, and one has to commend the film’s production designer and FX crew for creating such a distinctive-looking world, especially when the crew are outdoors but also in some of the enclosed spaces where the set dressers’ work is just as effective.
Even with his great eye for visuals, Ball’s efforts do little to help a movie that’s plagued with obvious storytelling issues. There’s a certain point where questions need to start getting answered and those answers really take away from the mystery. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more like those other young adult movies and falls into the traps The Maze Runner did such a good job avoiding. The introduction of Rosa Salazar’s Brenda, which adds the same love triangle element we’ve seen in everything from Twilight to The Hunger Games, feels like the film’s biggest cop-out even though her scenes with Dylan O’Brien are decent.
But the three main actors–Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario and Rosa Salazar–aren’t the problem, as they show a lot of promise and should have solid careers ahead of them. That’s not something I could say about some of the other Gladers, who aren’t very good at selling their situation. Likewise, the new characters introduced don’t offer very much to the mix with Giancarlo Esposito’s Jorge being one of the standouts and Alan Tudyk seeming like a character better suited for The Fifth Element. The fact that The Scorch Trials never seems to be on par with the original Maze Runner can probably be blamed on the source material, but the dialogue just isn’t up to snuff either.
The Scorch Trials ends on another cliffhanger and not in a great place either, although it leaves one hope the filmmakers will be wise enough to end the story with the next movie rather than stretching it out into two more movies, which has been the biggest ongoing problem with the genre.
The Bottom Line:
The Scorch Trials isn’t nearly as original or groundbreaking as The Maze Runner was, maybe because it feels like they’ve runs out of ideas, forcing it to resort to things we’ve seen in so many other movies.