Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the second of a series of stories, all under the Maze Runner name, and the stories are written by James Dashner. Since this is the second movie, I’ll give a very brief recap of the first.
A young man (Dylan O’Brien) suddenly finds himself in a glade surrounded by an enormous wall that leads into a maze. Through a series of events the young man, who later learns that his name is Thomas, is selected to be a “maze runner,” someone who runs the maze in an attempt to map all of it in the eventual hopes of finding a way out for all who are living in the glade. What he does find is a fortress where he learns that the Earth has suffered a terrible cataclysm which scorched the Earth, followed by a pandemic of a deadly and incurable virus called the Flare, and that an organization named WCKD placed the young people in the glade as a means to both test them as they appear to be immune to the effects of the virus. The movie ends with our young survivors being spirited away by uniformed men in helicopters where Thomas sees the maze from the air and notices that it’s surrounded by a wasteland.
Scorch Trials picks up practically immediately from where Maze Runner left off, with our young people being taken to a different facility where they are then promised that they will eventually be taken to a place of safety where they can live out their lives. Thomas doesn’t believe what he hears, and with the help of a young lad named Aris, discovers what really happens to the other young people who are taken away and decides this is not a fate for him or his friends. He also learns of a resistance group simply called “Right Arm” and decides this is their best option.
Upon escaping they encounter the victims of the Flare as well as discovering that they are in New York City. They make their way across what is now a desert towards the mountains where they believe this Right Arm exists. Along the way they meet up with another rag-tag community of survivors, albeit far less noble than our escapees (except for the leader and a young girl who is basically a surrogate daughter), and after escaping the clutches of WCKD a second time, eventually find themselves in a camp populated by resistance fighters who have been saving children to live in a far nicer place than anything WCKD could offer.
We only saw Maze Runner for the first time last week, and while I found the concept tantalizing and the action sequences exciting, this was a movie filled with questions. The narrative has the viewer alongside our young cast, asking the same questions that they are. We are equally in the dark. While this can serve as an excellent means of telling a story, it can be difficult to maintain that level of mystery throughout the duration of an entire film. The first movie barely provides any answers, which could be frustrating for someone who saw it in the theater and hadn’t read any of the books. At least with us we had a short time to wait before seeing this second movie and hopefully get some more answers, which thankfully this movie somewhat did provide.
However this does not excuse some glaring plot holes which cannot simply be dismissed by a hand wave, which ultimately caused a good deal of harm to the overall movie. We are lead to believe at the end of the first movie that the scientists of WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Division) had all died at the hands of some insurgents, only to learn afterwards that this is not the case. We also learn that the group of people that initially rescued our young troop is not opposed to WCKD at all, but are indeed a part of that organization, but there is still no proper explanation as to why the charade of having the scientists appear to be killed at all.
Once outside we see what has become of the world by examining New York City, but what we see appears to make no sense. The buildings have fallen to ruin and many have toppled over, yet we aren’t given any reason as to the cause. The Scorch merely sent temperatures rising to terrible levels as well as causing severe changes in the weather, but that alone would not be any reason to see the world literally caving in as it is.
Those victims of Flare are now referred to as Cranks, but they are nothing more than this story’s excuse to have zombies; very fast and lethal zombies. The use of these creatures merely changes this into yet another zombie movie. Yes, there are mysteries and questions that need solving, but those suffer at the expense of having these Cranks in such a large part of the film. There is much running around as our youngsters are being chased in scenes that actually go on just a bit too long. The director (Wes Ball) decided to dispense with the use of a steady cam and instead went with a handheld camera during these chase scenes, probably in an attempt to create the feeling that we are being chased as well. Sadly all this did was make me want to grab for my empty popcorn bag as I thought I was going to vomit from motion sickness.
There is also one severe plot contrivance that seriously damaged any remaining credibility of the film. We are lead to believe that our heroes have taken quite some time to cross the wasteland from New York City to this fortress near the foothills of update New York. However, during an escape from WCKD our hero Thomas, along with the help of young girl from that same fortress (Brenda), find themselves underground, beneath the very fortress they are trying to escape. They find a maze of tunnels, and after being chased by Cranks they find themselves back in New York City, and very little time has passed. This story point sadly stretched any credibility past the point of breaking. The climactic action sequence is also terribly predictable in terms of its set up, as well as its resolution. As we watched it in the theater we were able to second guess how the scenes were to play out, as well as who would inevitably become canon fodder.
It’s clear that this movie is meant for teenaged boys, with a lot of its “first person” action scenes in an attempt to make them feel as if they were a part of the story, but this movie talks down to them. Teenaged boys, especially those with a love of sci-fi, are a lot smarter than writers and filmmakers are willing to give them credit for, and instead of giving them a smart film with some intelligent storytelling and ideas, what they have here is a movie that is beneath them.
Now if there were anything positive to take away from this it would be the cast. Dylan O’Brien is an actor on the rise. He truly comes across as a young man thrust into a situation he does not fully understand, but nonetheless feels a sense of responsibility to not only find a way out of the mess he’s in, but to also help take care of his new found friends. The layers of emotions are beautifully conveyed as he deals with each new problem and crisis.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt) has also developed into a fine young actor, even after delivering a strong performance in Maze Runner. Here we see a character that doubts Thomas after finally finding himself in what seems to be a much-improved situation. The manner in which he expresses his confusion and doubt is truly spot on, and the shock he emotes when he learns that one of his own friends has betrayed him is so honest that the audience is able to feel the shock right with him, despite the fact that the betrayal was terribly telegraphed.
In summary, this is a movie that has a lot of faults to it. It is saved by an excellent cast, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, they are overabundant which creates a feeling of story padding. While this movie may have been aimed at a male teenaged demographic, if it were not for the violence of the movie, I would go so far as to say that its intended audience would have to be grade school students.
I give 2 stars out of 5.