Directed by Wes Ball. Produced by Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, and Lee Stollman. Written by T.S. Nowlin. Release date: September 18, 2015.
The Maze Runner may not have been a particularly good movie, especially once it decided to move away from being a Lord of the Flies knockoff in favor of a “escape from the giant mechanical spiders” movie – even though the latter sounds so much more fun than the former. It made a lot of money, so it now has a sequel: The Scorch Trials. Set directly after the events of the first film, the second follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and co. as they continue on the run from WICKED, an evil organization that wants children in order to produce a cure for a virus that essentially wiped out civilization as we currently know it.
If you remember the first film – and nobody can blame you if you don’t; I finally saw it less than a month ago and I barely recall what happened – you may be thinking that the cast of the first film already escaped WICKED, and that they were rescued by nice men with guns. Well, it turns out that these people are also part of WICKED, so they have to escape again, only to find themselves in a post-apocalyptic desert, where they have new challenges to overcome. Outside of the elements, they are forced to deal with zombies (called Cranks), outlaw factions that have made their homes in the desert, and WICKED, a group who continues to pursue them for reasons that The LEGO Movie can explain more accurately than anyone else: Thomas is The Special, and as such all of the important events will revolve around him.
The film, now stealing from Mad Max instead of Lord of the Flies, is essentially one long chase movie. The teenagers from the first film – Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and a couple of others – run from place to place as WICKED chases them, stopping only until the area they’re in starts to get dangerous, and then they’re on the move again. What should have been reaped from Mad Max was the way that world-building was done without much exposition, and how characters still manage to show us their depth and develop despite the near-constant action.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials fails at both of those aspects, as did its predecessor. While the characters themselves had memory loss, so we’re not going to learn much about them from before The Maze, at least two of them start to get their memories back, and nothing stopping them from growing as individuals based on the near-death experiences they face on a daily basis. But, no, we learn nothing about them and they continue to be bland slates with maybe one or two defining characteristics. Thomas is The Special, Teresa is The Girl, Minho is The Muscle, and Newt … is there. A couple of other characters exist, and we’re even supposed to care about the fate of one of them, but that’s nearly impossible to do when we’ve been given nothing onto which we can latch. It doesn’t help that most of the acting is bland and uninspired, with Dylan O’Brien, our lead, being the worst offender.
The Scorch Trials isn’t painful, and it’s not going to be a torturous watch like some other young adult adaptations.
Instead, it’s all about the action, which is improved over the last film for the sole reason that there’s actually a lot of action this time out. The chases are kind of thrilling, there are a couple of moments when you genuinely aren’t sure who’s going to make it out alive, and while zombies may be a bit overdone at this point, their inclusion doesn’t hurt. There’s no originality to anything we see, but it’s not flat-out bad. We also get a new character, Brenda (Rosa Salazar, who interestingly enough also had a role in 2015’s earlier YA dystopia movie, Insurgent), who very much deserves her fan-favorite status. Each scene she’s in cements her as the most enjoyable character to watch; I began to wonder how much more enjoyable a movie based on her life would have been.
Unfortunately, a lot of the film takes place at night, and the cinematography has been done in such a way as to make things feel very claustrophobic – everything is a little bit too close for comfort. This means that scenes are underlit and shot in a way that makes it hard to tell what’s going on. A couple of early scenes really suffer from this. Things are frantic, but you wind up struggling to tell exactly what’s happening. This becomes less of a problem as The Scorch Trials moves along, but it’s an issue for a large enough chunk of the movie to be noticeable.
These movies have their fans, and if you’re not already on-board for The Maze Runner movies, The Scorch Trials isn’t going to get you there. But if you sat through the first one and want to see the next stage, all I can report is that this one isn’t as boring, even if it’s still not even technically “good.” It’ll pass the time, giving you some decent action and at least one relatively surprising twist, even if the acting still has a lot to be desired, the story is still a mess, and the characters have nothing to them. The Scorch Trials isn’t painful, and it’s not going to be a torturous watch like some other young adult adaptations, so it gets a tentative pass from me.
Bottom Line: A moderate improvement – but an improvement nonetheless – on its predecessor, The Scorch Trials won’t hook in many new fans, but it’ll keep those already invested satisfied enough.
Recommendation: If you saw and liked The Maze Runner, see its sequel. If you don’t fit into both of those categories, you have no reason to see it.[rating=2.5]