After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles.
What happen when The Maze Runner MUST get a sequel? The answer is lose the maze, keep the running, drop any trace of the social tension, fill the rest with Game of Thrones cast members and add zombies because why not? So this film is the sequel to last year's YA adaptation and pulls the exact same trick. Containing no mazes but plenty of running. The film takes the originals surviving characters and drops them into the middle of an entirely different type of movie, this one a desert-set zombie chase. At least - and contrary to its fellow dystopian teenage sci-fie sagas - this film sustains a bit of curiosity by leaving its characters and its audience completely in the dark about why anything is happening and what any of it could possibly mean. The Scorch Trials offers ultimately no character development whatsoever and only inch of plot advancement. It's mostly just moving a group of motivated characters from one place to another without giving much clue where the whole thing is headed.
This time the group awakens a swarm of vicious zombies - the film calls them "Cranks" - though they're in no way different from any other zombie hordes that you have shuffled across screens over the past decade. However, the action scenes are urgent and masterfully paced. Despite an over reliance on shaky-cam and quick cuts, director Wes Ball stages a number of effective sequences. Particularly a zombie pursuit up through a collapsed skyscraper that relies more on ace production design than CGI to build believability. He also makes time for a few scenes that are so cheekily weird they may as well come from another film. Cinematically, director attempts to sustain engagement by providing each successive setting with a different combination of threats of distinctive stylistic treatment, borrowing from drama, thriller and horror genres. While the technique adds visual diversity.
A significant portion of the film is devoted to filling in the narrative gaps essential to maintaining the veil of mystery that characterise The Maze Runner and the Glader's ignorance surrounding their incarceration. Ironically, as more facts emerge, they tend to undermine the storyline rather than reinforce it. When part of a larger narrative the film doesn't make much sense served by an unfocused script. Action is one thing, but the film also needs a better-developed-sense of mystery as well as a deeper exploration of character relationships. The Scorch Trials wanders between YA cliches, there's a resistance, but it's not clear what they're resisting and a zombie movie with the obligatory a-zombie-bit-our-friend scene. Finally, all of that would have been acceptable if the characters were given motivation beyond "we need to go there" and "I need to save her". Just enough to make you wish they'd just go back into the damn maze already.
Overall when the dust settles The Scorch Trials is, as we're repeatedly told of WCKD, "good" - just not as god as you want it to be.