Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Directed by Wes Ball. Starring Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Ki Hong Lee, Bryce Romero, Gary Hood, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Nathalie Emmanuel, Katherine McNamara, Tatanka Means, Keith Jardine, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Jenny Gabrielle, Matthew Page, J. Nathan Simmons. Written by T.S. Nowlin, from the novel by James Dashner.
In 2014’s The Maze Runner, adapted from the series of novels by James Dashner, a group of teens finds wakes up in a giant maze with no memories, and has to work their way out of it while battling mysterious creatures and inner turmoil within their own group.
It’s a Twilight Zone concept for a Young Adult audience, and the movie was genuinely successful for what it was: a fully contained little B-movie that answers the questions it raises, though it poses a few new ones by the end.
In The Scorch Trials, the second chapter in this story, our protagonists are now out of the Maze and into the Brave New World. Where does the series go from there?
The titular Scorch is what now exists of the earth – a vast Mad Max-style desert, with the remnants of toppled cities accessible underneath the sand – and the Trial is one long, extended chase sequence that comprises the bulk of the entire film.
Our teenage protagonists from the first film have escape the maze, and the clutches of evil corporation WCKD – that’s pronounced “Wicked”, by the way, in case you didn’t get it – who placed them there, and now find themselves in the custody of their rescuers.
Those “rescuers” are another mysterious and secretive corporation, of course, who place the youngsters under armed guard in a prison-like environment. They’re led by “Mr. Jansen”, played by Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger on Game of Thrones), which only raises more red flags.
Most of the kids are fine with this scenario (really?), but we know where this is going, and so does protagonist Thomas (Dylan O’Brien). He quickly catches on and breaks himself and friends Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Winston (Alexander Flores), Frypan (Dexter Darden ), and newcomer Aris (Jacob Lofland) out of captivity.
Where to next? Thomas and others have never experienced the desolate outside world, but he did overhear a single line of dialogue about a rebel faction in “the mountains,” and hey – there are some mountains over there. It’s a start.
The rest of the movie is a nonstop thrill ride that has our heroes not only running from WCKD and trying to survive the elements, but also trying to escape from the hordes of zombies that are around the corner at every turn.
The zombie virus outbreak is, presumably, the McGuffin behind the events of the entire series. For some reason. Patricia Clarkson, as the WCKD head, and Lili Taylor, as a rebel doctor, attempt to make some sense out of it, but… riiiight.
The Scorch Trials is so different in plot and setting to the first film that it could come from an entirely different universe altogether; in terms of story, this one’s closer to Divergent than it is to the original film. But the characters help reign things in, and O’Brien is still an engaging presence in the lead.
Newcomers Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar are welcome additions to the cast as a father-daughter-like pair of scavengers, and Alan Tudyk is a blast in a brief cameo as a grotesque club owner in the film’s lone sequence that showcases what the real post-apocalyptic society here looks like.
Ultimately, the film fails to satisfy on the same levels as The Maze Runner – your basic tenets of setup-payoff storytelling, or even general coherence – and almost every line of dialogue here is a laughable action movie cliché.
But the film moves at a quick-enough pace that makes the ungainly 130-minute runtime go down easy, and offers up plenty of thrills along the way. This one isn’t memorable as the first film, or even particularly good, but it’s an entertaining continuation of the series that far outshines this year’s Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series.