Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

The Scorch TrialsFollowing their last-ditch escape from the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers are flown to a halfway house by saviour Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen) while they await their turn for onward transportation to a safe haven. It turns out that their’s wasn’t the only maze being operated by WCKD — the sinister World in Catastrophe: Killzone Department pulling the strings — who are looking for a cure for the Flare virus, at any cost, and upon their arrival at Janson’s facility they are introduced to their fellow survivors, including Aris (Jacob Lofland), a quiet boy previously saved from a Glade of girls. Suspicious of Mr. Janson, and conscious of WCKD’s continued and potentially uninterrupted threat, Thomas enlists Aris to help him and his friends escape once more, ultimately leading Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa Agnes (Kaya Scodelario), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Winston (Alexander Flores) out into the “Scorch”, an inhospitable wasteland surrounding the complex, where they meet Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) on their way to the hills.

And it all started out so simply! 2014’s The Maze Runner was a wonderfully straightforward movie; while The Hunger Games and Divergent wasted no time in introducing their corrupt governments and convoluted conflicts to audiences (to drastically different levels of success, it must be said), Wes Ball’s adaptation of James Dashner’s Young Adult novel hardly took any explaining at all, and was all the more compelling for it: there were some boys in a maze; a girl showed up with an ominous message; the boys needed to get out of the maze. Instead of endless exposition Ball packed his movie with uncomplicated characters, kinetic action and sensational set pieces; it moved at such a breakneck speed that it was easy to overlook the film’s few preposterous attempts at world-building: namely, that WCKD sounded more like an alcopop than an evil organisation and the astonishing implication that a solar flare caused a zombie outbreak. It even had a bit of depth; if The Hunger Games was a meditation on media and Divergent was — and let’s be generous here — a precis on personality, then The Maze Runner scrutinised science. After all, and as you may remember, the boy’s were revealed to be little more than lab rats by the end of the first film — experimented on by WCKD as the organisation searched for a cure.

For the sequel, however, this simplicity has been lost. Its protagonists now free from the maze — in many ways the series’ defining feature — it’s a narrative scramble (if not all-out shambles) to find something else for them to do. The Maze Runner was great because it didn’t spend half of its running time setting up future instalments that, given the hit to miss ration of YA adaptations, audiences were never likely to even see; now that we’re onto episode two, however, there’s little sense of a narrative trajectory or coherent through line as a result. Who is Thomas? What does he want?  What does he have to do in order to achieve it? These are all simple questions that the film has a worryingly hard time trying to answer, instead spouting the same “Chosen One” rhetoric that makes all of these movies sound the same. To begin with the film flirts with the idea that he has simply been released into a much larger maze — a labyrinth of corridors and ventilation shafts — but before long they are running free in the dessert and the original film is little more than a distant memory. Instead of battling Greivers — deadly robotic spiders designed to patrol the maze, for some reason — the children find themselves battling zombies — or Cranks, as the film calls them, for another — none of which has any real precedent in the series to date. There was no sense of drought, for instance, in the Glade, with its lush grasses and regular rainfall, while Thomas’ young age makes his prior employment by WCKD somewhat hard to swallow.

That said, as preposterous and ultimately perfunctory as Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials might seem, the franchise remains more engaging than most. If anything Ball’s sequel picks up the pace, with nary a moment passing in which the Gladers aren’t running to somewhere or from something. There’s a real energy to these scenes that propels the film even in the absence of plot, and the frantic camera movements work alongside the spirited cast to produce sequences of real dynamo and drama. One such scene, in which Thomas and company are searching an abandoned shopping centre for clothes and power, is genuinely tense and thrilling, while a later, loosely connected scene is as visceral and brutal as anything the genre has yet to offer. The Scorch Trials is a lot more muscular than the competition, which has a tendency towards the introspective and philosophical. It would be chauvinistic to attribute this to the gender of the protagonist, however; it’s simply that with no memories or obvious motivation there is only so much for Thomas to muse on. The Scorch Trials isn’t all surface, though, it must be said, as the film begins to develop its stance on scientific experimentation. Wasted in the first movie, Kaya Scodelario is finally given something to do, and while Thomas is busy running away from zombies, lightening and Aidain Gillen, Teresa is bravely facing a crisis of conscience: is it still OK for the rats to revolt if the experiment is saving human lives?

Naturally, The Scorch Trials ends on a cliffhanger, setting up the next film in the series — The Death Cure, natch — in its dying minutes. Whether you can be tempted back for another, well, whatever this is, is one thing, but while The Scorch Trials comes may come no closer to explaining the point of this series it does succeed in entertaining for another couple of hours — which is more than could be said for the second Divergent, or Percy Jackson, or Twilight. It’s even a half-descent zombie movie, apart from the bit where they came from the sun.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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