In the latest film adaptation that isn’t The Hunger Games or the Divergent series, comes the second installment of the Maze Runner franchise.
Wasting no time with silly recaps, The Scorch Trials takes place immediately after 2014’s The Maze Runner and jumps right into the happy-go-lucky dystopian world where people are dying from disease and children are killed all in the name of good ol’ fashion science.
Thrusting us into the mysterious labyrinth where teenagers known as Gladers were trapped inside their maze by WCKD (Word Catastrophe Killzone Department), a government agency headed with finding a cure to a viral plague that has killed millions of people and transformed those who survived into zombie speed-runners known as Cranks.
Free from that pesky maze, the Gladers are now in the arms of the unidentified soldiers who came to their rescue at the end of the first movie. Run by Janson (Aidan Gillen) they take the teenagers to their facility where they undergo a battery of tests, are fed, and given a depressing room to sleep in; but at least it beats running for your life. Or does it?
While everything is coming up roses for the group, they soon discover those roses are starting to have an off-putting smell, much like people who douse themselves in perfume instead of bathing with soap and water.
Confused and suspicious about their new digs, Thomas befriends Aris (Jacob Lofland) a weird kid from the facility (because self-segregated hungry looking kids are always so welcoming) to find out what’s really going on. In a series of convenient events and with help from LonelyBoy101, Thomas discovers the real truth of the facility and what’s really happening behind closed doors.
Earth as we know it is gone, destroyed and dehydrated from a series of solar events that have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. This is the Scorch, a Mad Max-like wasteland, that they soon find themselves in. With his group of loyal but now sunburnt friends, Thomas plans to make contact with a rebel group known as the Right Arm Camp. However, on their way to the Promised Land, they are captured by the mercenary gang leader Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his young partner, Brenda (Rosa Salazar).
While the first movie did an excellent job setting up the story, the same thing cannot be said about The Scorch Trials. The main purpose of the movie is to reveal why teenagers were imprisoned in the first place, set up a plot of destroying WCKD, and expose the truth to the world. It succeeds at doing not a single one of these. More accurately, it doesn’t do a damn thing.
Unlike Maze Runner’s effortless storytelling, Scorch Trials never gets off the ground and results in being a glorious uneven mess, which is a complete disrespect to everything the previous movie set up to achieve including the characters we invested in.
Unlike the James Dashner novels or even the first movie which had heart and feeling, this movie adaptation is stale, disjointed, and predictable; substituting a grounded story for flashy unoriginal action sequences because clearly being original in any form was too much of a struggle.
Much of the movie is spent trying to inform the audience of a backstory while not fully revealing what’s to come or even what’s currently happening. This attempt is the downfall of the movie and further proof that T.S. Nowlin should not be left handling an entire script all by his lonesome. Creating an air of mystery is not Nowlin’s forte, which is probably why he was only a co-writer in the first movie. His handicap results in a directionless attempt of what a writer thinks the audience wants instead of giving the audience what the story needs, which in this case is an actual plot.
The first rule in writing a backstory is to actually create a backstory and not to throw in random characters which do not drive the story forward. Also, answering even just a handful of questions the first movie raised would be helpful, such as:
What happened to the world that would result in the development and spread of a deadly zombie turning virus? Why are there solar flares? Is everyone cool about zombies in the shape of trees? Why are zombies in the shape of trees? Where does everyone get their nails manicured at? More importantly, of all the movies to rip-off, why 28 Day Later?
There is such a nonchalant attitude to the movie, that when the audience is clued in about something, it feels like rumors instead of facts. Also, cohesiveness would be appreciated; there shouldn’t be a drug sequence that does absolutely nothing for the movie. This also goes for the rave in the middle of the desert. If children are in hiding, why are they raving in the open desert? Yet there they are, filling up the runtime instead of devoting it towards something better, like information.
Finally, setting up any of the scenes that requires an action sequence would also be helpful to the audience, so they at least understand what’s happening. The Scorch Trials just overloads senses with random explosions, gun fights, LSD and stoic music without any meaning. There’s even stoic music when there’s nothing stoic occurring, unless wiping sweat off your brow is a crowning achievement.
As a result it feels like a rip-off of a Mad Max: Fury Road minus any of the flaming guitar bonuses. The audience is cheated out of the need to continue watching, begging for more information instead of having to starve to death. Action scenes are meant to highlight a movie, not disguise the movie’s flaws.
Despite this, the actors do a rather decent job of wading through the mess. Thomas is portrayed as a true leader and takes every scene with ownership. His character has vastly grown since the previous movie; keeping his emotions close instead of laying everything out in the open. There is a scene between one of the escapees who asks him to end his life, you see Thomas’ pain reverberate throughout his body but he knows that it must be done. Since he is a leader, he knows it has to be done by him.
Janson swiftly moves between hero and villain, while you’re not sure of his intentions, you kind of like hanging around him. He’s both comforting and deadly.
The movie is at least visually appealing in a decaying sense. It’s stylized in a certain way where each scene has a visual meaning, yet nothing overlaps. This visual diversity, while not cohesive (nothing about this movie is cohesive) is rich in quality and does great job of having the audience feel the sense of loss, regret and hopelessness the characters are going through on this journey.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is depressing and not in the sense everyone is hoping for. The carelessness is disrespectful to everyone involved in the film. It works at best as a first draft, and while there are worse movies out there, the massive amount of mistakes made takes away from the overall enjoyment of the movie. At the end of the day, all that’s left is “why”? Why are the characters carrying out these actions but more importantly, why am I watching this?