Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence and Action, some Thematic Elements, Substance Use and Language
Directed by: Wes Ball
Written by: T.S. Nowlin
(based on the novel THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner)
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Kaya Scodelario, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Alan Tudyk & Patricia Clarkson
Seeing that HARRY POTTER ran its course, TWILIGHT has long since ended and THE HUNGER GAMES is coming to a conclusion this year, it seems like the next two big young adult movie franchises are DIVERGENT and THE MAZE RUNNER, for better or worse. I actually liked the first MAZE RUNNER and considered it be big dumb spectacle. It was an entertaining, ridiculous movie that came across like LORD OF THE FLIES with a maze, monsters and just a touch of RESIDENT EVIL. It also left the door wide open for a follow-up. A mere year later, we have THE SCORCH TRIALS. This sequel holds some of the bombastic charm from the first film, but also seems like a big step down in the newly spawned franchise.
Thomas and his friends survived the Maze and have been rescued by the mysterious Mr. Janson. Janson runs a safe haven from WICKED (an evil organization that wishes to use these teens for something…no spoilers). Soon enough, Thomas discovers that Janson isn’t quite the hero he’s set himself up as. Thomas and his friends find themselves running once again, but not in a maze. Instead, they’re in a sand-filled wasteland crossed with the zombie apocalypse. Instead of monsters, Thomas now faces off against zombies (though they don’t call them that), harsh elements (including a freaky electrical storm) and WICKED itself.
SCORCH TRIALS feels like its making itself up as it goes along. The plot is silly, rife with clichés that you’ve seen in plenty of other films/stories, and has moments of obvious CGI. This is a RESIDENT EVIL movie series for kids who aren’t old enough to get into an R-rated movie. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing. I mean that as both a compliment and a detriment. The teenage characters are just as wooden as they were in the first film, but there’s a definite dark streak to this movie. I found myself surprised at how grim things actually get, resulting in one teenager (who was sitting within earshot) swearing after a particularly depressing scene. Plot points that were a mystery in the first film are brought out in exposition. However, these revelations feel lazy and underwhelming (especially the reason for why Thomas was sent into the maze).
There is still entertaining action to be had in this sequel. I enjoyed the desert wasteland and chase scenes (of which there are many). Though the aforementioned teenage characters may be wooden and unconvincing, the adults seem to be having fun. Aidan Gillen (who plays one of my favorite characters in GAME OF THRONES) is well cast as the villainous Janson. He doesn’t receive a ton of screen time, but makes the most of what he has. Alan Tudyk has a really strange part as a drug-using criminal in the post-apocalyptic world. He has about two or three scenes tops, but sticks out as a “what the hell was that?” character. Giancarlo Esposito stole the show for me as a heroic aid to Thomas. Patricia Clarkson is a bland villainess though and her motivations are as clichéd as you’d expect in a movie that’s derivative of seemingly every apocalyptic science-fiction story ever made. SCORCH TRIALS really bombs in its pacing and ending. This second installment runs 20 minutes longer than the first film, when it has half the story to fill that length of time. There is no satisfying conclusion either. It’s just another obvious cliffhanger setting up for the final film (THE DEATH CURE coming in 2017).
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS is not necessarily “good” in the traditional sense of the word. There’s nothing original or creative here (save for the slightly darker tone in a young-adult movie) and it’s riddled with plot holes. However, I still found myself slightly invested for the strange adult characters and sheer spectacle. The movie runs too long for its own good and doesn’t have a satisfying ending. I also hear it’s not a straight adaptation of the novel, so fans of the book might want to prepare themselves for that. As someone who hasn’t read the books and doesn’t plan to, I found SCORCH TRIALS to be a significant step down from the first film, but I didn’t hate it. This is an okay time if you don’t mind turning off your brain at the door.