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Review: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Directed by: Wes Ball

Premise: The second film in the Maze Runner series. Having escaped the elaborate maze in the first film, the teenage survivors are taken in by the staff of a mysterious facility but things are not quite what they seem.

What Works: The Scorch Trials is one of those rare sequels that is better than the original film. Admittedly, The Maze Runner wasn’t that great but the follow up is able to take advantage of the groundwork laid by the original picture. The Maze Runner was predicated on a silly idea and when the big revelation came in the ending everything about the conceit of the story world seemed overwrought and unnecessarily complex. Having gotten through the exposition at the end of the previous movie, the filmmakers are able to focus on the action and as a result The Scorch Trials has a less ridiculous feel, at least within the context of its story. This film moves along quite fast and it has a steady offering of action sequences. Director Wes Ball proves to have a talent for staging and filming the set pieces. There are lots of chases and fights and these sequences have an energetic and visceral feel. Another impressive element of The Scorch Trials is the way that it utilizes elements from different kinds of films but maintains a unified look. The first portion of the movie is a science fiction thriller in the mold of films like Logan’s Run. The middle portion of The Scorch Trials is essentially a zombie movie and it is impressively scary for a PG-13 picture. In its final portion, the movie transitions again, this time into a post-apocalyptic action film like The Road Warrior. Each new setting opens up the world of The Maze Runner and reenergizes the movie.

What Doesn’t: As much as the makers of The Scorch Trials do to improve this series, the movie is saddled with problems that carry over from the first picture. The main problem of this series is its cast of teenage characters. None of them are interesting and they don’t have any depth. In the first Maze Runner these kids at least had social roles they fulfilled in the tribal society of the Glade. Having escaped, the central characters don’t have a social order or a plot function to give them identities and no other defining characteristics emerge over the course of this story. They spend most of The Scorch Trials following their leader for no particular reason. While Dylan O’Brien’s character doesn’t make stupid decisions he also never really demonstrates any gift for leadership. As the middle installment of a trilogy, it is incumbent on The Scorch Trials to do more with its story. Great second parts such as The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight develop the ideas, grow the characters, and escalate the conflict in ways that will pay off in the final installment. The Scorch Trials does not really do that. The characters are still fundamentally the same people that they were at the beginning, nothing about the central conflict has really changed, and the film does not leave the viewer on a compelling cliffhanger. As a result, the story accomplishes very little. At lot about The Scorch Trials is familiar from other movies. It is admirable how varied this movie is, borrowing elements from science fiction thrillers, zombie movies, and post-apocalyptic action pictures, but those scenarios aren’t presented in a way that is new and the juxtaposition of the various elements does not change their meaning.  

Bottom Line: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a fun sequel. The movie lacks in some of its duties as the middle chapter of an ongoing story but the action sequences make the film engaging enough.

Episode: #561 (September 27, 2015)