Shortly after being rescued from the maze trials, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the surviving Gladers – Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Darden), Winston (Alexander Flores) and Teresa Agnes (Kaya Scodelario) – are escorted to a facility overseen by Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen). Promising to protect them from WCKD – pronounced “Wicked” – the Flare virus and the zombie-like Cranks, Janson provides the kids with food, sanitation and shelter and introduces them to a number of other survivors from other mazes.
However, when Thomas discovers that WCKD’s leader Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) is not only alive, but that Janson is working for her in discovering “The Right Arm” – a resistance group located far in the mountains – Thomas and the group escapes from the facility and must now face their next challenge in the deserted outside world known as “The Scorch”.
Standing above all the other young-adult dystopian films is the Hunger Games franchise, while buried at the bottom pile is about 95% of the other ones. In between the Jennifer Lawrence led series and the rest of them, though, was last year’s The Maze Runner, which despite a third-act letdown and its blatantly telegraphed “SEQUEL! SEQUEL! SEQUEL!!!!” setup, was a decent surprise that contained a solid two-thirds worth of action-packed fun.
And now $340 million earned at the box office later, here we are with the sequel The Scorch Trials. This is the type of sequel that assumes you saw the first film and doesn’t even bother with a refresher course on what happened beforehand, so if you walk into this fresh, most if not all of what you see will fly right over your head.
Like its predecessor, The Scorch Trials starts out strong with the gang from The Glade now being placed in a new facility that at first seems like a safe-haven, but deep down Thomas knows something’s not right.
Then they escape and it’s like the momentum collided head-on into a brick wall.
For the first half, the film had me hooked. Like he showed us with the first film, director Wes Ball definitely knows his way around an action scene and what I appreciated about the last film and now this is that most of his action sequences eschew the inexplicably popular but increasingly annoying choppy, cross-cutting technique for a longer, more coherent view of what’s taking place (in particular, a tense, superbly shot escape from Janson’s facility and exciting chases through both a ravaged mall and skyscraper between the Glade gang and some plague-infected zombies… yeah, more on those zombies later).
But although Ball’s skill in executing a well staged action scene is evident here, his weakness as a storyteller still sticks out. It was easier for him to get away with it in The Maze Runner ’cause the story felt contained enough up until the final third when questions had to be answered which is when it all fell apart. Now, in typical “go big or go home” sequel fashion, we get more mythology, more characters, more newfound relationships, two resistant groups, a bizarre hallucinatory scene and more story threads, and both Ball and writer T.S. Nowlin never flesh any of it out beyond their YA-cliche forms.
Most disappointingly, The Scorch Trials loses the sense of urgency that worked for most of the first film, primarily due to the plots repetition.
The kids are rescued and all is well. Uh-oh, here come the bad guys, now they’re cornered, but lucky them, they’re conveniently saved at the last minute.
Now they’re rescued again and all is well. Uh-oh, here come the bad guys again, now they’re cornered again, but lucky them, they’re conveniently saved again at the last minute.
Hey, they’re rescued once again and all is well. Uh-oh, here come the bad guys again, now they’re cornered again, but lucky them, they’re conveniently saved again at the last minute.
Sure the visuals are impressive – well, minus a really odd switch from live actor zombies to distracting looking CGI ones (why the change when the makeup effects on the actors worked just fine, I have no idea) – but the plot point beats become so predictable that any suspense the film started out with begins to dissipate. Eventually, by the third time the bad guy aims a gun at Thomas, you start to call their bluff.
If there’s any consistency to be found here, it’s Dylan O’Brien. He carried the previous film very well, and he once again delivers another strong performance in spite of the weak story and superfluous love triangle that surrounds him. Though his Thomas won’t go down as memorable as J-Law’s Katniss, he still makes for a believable dystopian hero in this franchise, and he’s got potential that hopefully carries him on to bigger and better things once this series is over.
The rest of the cast members do what they can with they crowded development-challenged material that they have, and come the second half, it seemed to turn into a guessing game of which veteran character actor (Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Alan Tudyk and Giancarlo Esposito all pop up) would appear next for their two seconds of screen time. By the time Taylor showed up last, I was expecting anyone from William Hurt, Ben Kingsley or Brendan Gleeson to follow after her at any moment. They’re all recognizable character actors for a reason, and they put in the effort, but aside from Giancarlo Esposito, who’s pretty good here, none of them really get much to do.
Don’t worry, though, ’cause I’m sure we’ll all see them once again in the third installment that, of course, lets itself be known loudly and proudly with the final setup shot.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials offers a handful of thrilling action setpieces and another strong performance from Dylan O’Brien, but overall suffers from a number of repetitive, suspense-draining plot points and an uneven second-half crammed full of new characters and added mythology with barely any development to back it all up. While not the worst young-adult post-apocalypse downer, it still fails to distinguish itself from the thousands of other YA-films, and more so, does very little to continue the solid sense of adventure set by its predecessor.
I give Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials a C (★★½).