Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Review

IT’S TIME TO BEGIN PHASE TWO


 

Last year’s film adaptation of the popular Maze Runner book was, for the most part, a success and introduced moviegoers to the Gladers and their harsh world of living inside a giant maze. With a production of only $34 million, The Maze Runner eclipsed that price and gained a profit of roughly $340 million worldwide. The movie itself, kept up with the similar dystopian tone from recent YA adapted films (The Hunger Games and Divergent), The Maze Runner found its own swagger, hitting the mark with its narration of mystery and intrigue as well as its sci-fi action that’s a welcomed addition to the normal teen driven feature. Now, a year later, the adventure continues with the sequel follow-up movie Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Does this next chapter in the popular teen series deliver or does it fall into a cinematic sophomore slump?

 

THE STORY


Recently rescued from the maze trials of the first movie, the Gladers, conisisting of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are welcomed into the W.C.K.D.’s research science facility run by sly man Janson (Aidan Gillen). Subjected to a series of test and questions, while being comforted with shelter and food, the group soon becomes aware that things are not what they seem as this facility, with Thomas soon discovering a horrifying truth that will puts him and his friends at risk with the WICKED organization. After escaping from the facility, Thomas and his friends enter the Scorch, a desolate wasteland with limited shelter and rescources to survive. Hoping to find the Right Arm, a resistance group that fights against W.C.K.D., Thomas must first cross the Scorch’s harsh terrain, fending off against zombies known as Cranks, infected with the Flare Virus. Encountering obstacles and evading danger, the Gladers eventually come across Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his partner, Brenda (Rosa Salazar), learning more about W.C.K.D.’s villainous plan to find a cure for the Flare Virus.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As I said above, The Maze Runner was a success. While The Hunger Games movies are considered the “flagship” of recent teen dystopian adapted films, The Divergent movies and The Maze Runner jostle for second place (it really depends on the viewer on which is better). I personally like The Maze Runner over the Divergent movies. While both have their fair share of problems, The Maze Runner offers more of an interesting story and sort of ditches (for the most part) the sappy teen romance drama. Even though I nitpicked at a couple of things about the movie, I was actually impressed with The Maze Runner and was excited to see its inevitable sequel. After finally seeing it, I believe that Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a movie that, despites some criticisms, expands upon its scope and storytelling in its own movie franchise.

Wes Ball returns to his post as director for The Scorch Trials, continuing on to further establish his adapation of James Dashner’s work. I will say that I’ve read most of James Dashner’s Maze Runner series (I’ve read the initial trilogy, but not the prequel novel). Unfortunately, I really can’t recall some of the events in the books. I remember most The Maze Runner and Death Cure (the third installment), but my memory on The Scorch Trials is a little hazy. Thus, I really can’t speak on what was add, changed, and dropped in The Scorch Trials movie, which I imagined there was a lot. At the very least, a viewer brush up on watching The Maze Runner beforehand as The Scorch Trials hits the ground running and doesn’t offer much of a recap of prior events for its audience.

Perhaps the best thing to mention about The Scorch Trials is its theatrical universe has been greatly expanded. While The Maze Runner is considered to be an “escape” movie (with the Gladers trying to escape from the maze), The Scorch Trials is the equivalent to a “road” movie with Thomas and his Glader friends traversing a war-torn landscape of ruined cities, abandoned buildings, and shattered communities. It definitely opens the “Maze Runner” world up for viewers, expanding its scope beyond the limits it had in the first film. There’s technical no “maze” in this sequel, but, being a “road” movie”, theirs is a lot of running around and exploring, encountering new obstacles and new characters, both friendly and hostile.

With the scope of its world expanding, the production cost for The Scorch Trials has been bolstered, nearly doubling the price tag compared to The Maze Runner. This result in The Scorch Trials looking much more expensive, set pieces are much broader, more frequent, and are more detailed than in the first movie as well as the feature’s visual effect shots. Additionally, Ball has amped up the action, which is always a good thing. As a side note, Ball must be commended for making The Scorch Trials feel different from The Maze Runner. Granted both movies are part of a trilogy, but, rather than simply trying to emulate the first film, Ball gives The Scorch Trials its own distinct look and feel, which is a very unique thing to do.

While Ball does a good job at opening up the world further for the principal characters to explore, he has a hard time juggling it all in cohesively manner. Old and new characters, new areas and old foes, further mysteries, and the setup for the next feature film are task he tries to balance in The Scorch Trials; a result that imperfect as some prescient over others. Being the middle tale in a trilogy, the movie’s poses more questions than trying to answer them. Thus, by the time the movie’s end credits begins to roll, you’re left pondering more questions about the story than you did before the film started. There’s also the point where not a whole lot of stuff happens in the movie to accelerate the plot forward. Yes, Thomas and his friends encounter new challenges and characters, but it just feels like there’s just moving from point to point with a lot of running around in-between (i.e. running here, running there, running from guards, running from Cranks). Lastly, there are the Cranks, those who were once humans that are now infected by the Flare Virus. While there make-up and design are textually good, the whole “zombie” idea has done and redone over recent years, due to the fascination of zombies in mainstream pop culture. So while Dashner’s Cranks is soundly placed in the books, it just comes across as “oh, look…another zombie in a movie” in The Scorch Trials.

With the lead character of Thomas already established in The Maze Runner, Ball and Dylan O’Brien are able to further develop central hero of the trilogy a bit more in this second chapter. Honestly, it does work as O’Brien is able to explore what makes Thomas a capable leader as well as laying context to his former association with W.C.K.D. Unfortunately, as O’Brien’s Thomas steps more into the spotlight, the remaining Gladers from the first film are pushed to the sideline for pretty much of The Scorch Trials. Characters like Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa, Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt, and Dexter Darden’s Frypan still deliver quality performance all around, but are reduced to more supporting roles for exposition scenes and, more or less, continuity. Each one has at least one or two moments to shine, but not as much in comparison to the first movie.

With some of the characters from the first film fading into the backdrop, new faces and characters come forward, offering Thomas and company a helping hand or thwarting their advance forward. The beginning of the movie introduces viewers to Aris Jones, played by Jacob Loftland, a surviving member of another Glader group and who ultimately joins up Thomas’s Gladers. There’s a heavy emphasis of his presence for the first act of the film, but, much like Thomas’s entourage, fades into the background as the story progresses (hope they do more with him in the next movie). Game Of Thrones’s star Aidan Gillen plays Janson, a mustache-twiriling officer for the mysterious W.C.K.D organization, who assists Patricia Clarkson’s Ava Page (the female character that appears at the end of the first movie) in capturing Thomas and his fellow Gladers. Both Gillen and Clarkson are talented individuals, but their overall “villainy” doesn’t quite strike the fear that’s intended.

Breaking Bad star Giancarlo Esposito plays newcomer Jorge, an eccentric (and entertaining) gang leader, who aids Thomas and his friends on their journey along with his trusted prodigy Brenda, played by Rosa Salazar. Salazar’s Brenda adds new layer to Thomas (creating an ambiguous love triangle with him and Teresa) and sort does (in a good way) steal the spotlight for most of the second half of the movie. Other familiar faces include Game of Thrones’s star Nathalie Emmanuel as Harriet, a resistant fighter against W.C.K.D, Barry Pepper as Vince, another resistant fighter, and finally Firefly star Alan Tudyk chews his role as Blondie, a local drug dealer / opportunist.

FINAL THOUGHTS


While it still can’t be out The Hunger Games movies, moviegoers who attracted to recent YA dystopian features will like Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. This intended sequel may not be as heavy as the previous installment, but its cinematic universe as been indeed expanded. The world is bigger, the story’s plot thickens, and there’s a lot more action this go round. While movie’s narration does become a little stagnat (dishing out more questions than answers) and certain characters from the first film are pushed aside for new ones (who sometimes don’t fit correctly), The Scorch Trials delivers at its visual scope and exploration. To me, it made some slight overall improvements from The Maze Runner and, while it’s easy to see the similarities to other YA book-to-film adaptions, feels a little bit different from its own predesscor. In short, if you’re a fan of these types of movies, it’s worth the time to watch. With The Scorch Trials complete, the wait for the final installment Maze Runner: Death Cure begins (a release date set for early 2017), focusing on the conclusion and unveiling the mystery behind the Gladers, the Flare Virus, and W.C.K.D.’s endgame.

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

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