Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) / Sci Fi-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language
Running Time: 131 min.

Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Aidan Gillen, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk, Patricia Clarkson, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Nathalie Emmanuel
Director: Wes Ball
Screenplay: T.S. Nowlin (based on the novel by James Dashner)

Review published September 21, 2015

The Scorch Trials is the follow-up to the modest 2014 hit, The Maze Runner, based on the 2010 YA novel by James Dashner.  We continue to follow Thomas (O'Brien, The Internship) and his fellow Gladers, now out of the original maze, taken to a research facility where they meet the main administrator, Janson (Gillen, Calvary), who tells them that they will be taken to a place where they will no longer be in danger, once they pass a series of tests.  Thomas soon discovers that not everything is what it appears to be, and comes to the conclusion that their lives will be in danger if they remain there.  They take their chances surviving out on the Scorch, the desert-like surrounding area where a deadly Flare virus has run rampant and has turned much of the infected into miserable and deadly zombies, dubbed Cranks here.  Hoping just to survive, the crew soon discovers that there are other humans left out there, who may be instrumental in fighting back against WCKD (WICKED), the original organization that enslaved them in order to harvest a vaccine to combat the Flare virus.

Wes Ball directs from the T.S. Nowlin adaptation, which unlike many recent adaptations of popular YA works, changes the story in the Dashner novel substantially, nearly to the point where it feels like a completely different tale altogether.  Despite continuing the name, there's no maze to run in at all, and instead, a survival zombie movie erupts to make it a sort of sci-fi/action/horror hybrid for audiences looking to continue to ride the zombie craze while the craze is still lucrative.  Though coming out only a year after the previous entry, it all looks very polished, with good use of CG technology and well-detailed environs that make the world a much bigger place than we had seen in part one.

For approximately the first two thirds of The Scorch Trials, the film delivers on a par that you'd expect, with bland characterizations, a barely passable plot, and lots and lots of well-edited chase sequences.  It's in the final third of the film that things begin to take form, when Thomas, along with a new companion in a spirited fighter named Brenda (Salazar, Insurgent), a potential new love interest perhaps, are off on their own looking for a man that can take them to a resistance group fighting against WCKD.  Here, the film actually appears to be taking a few chances with the narrative, allowing for a drug-infused rave scene, a scamper up a skyscraper in order to escape a horde of zombie, and a skirmish set to the tune of a Patsy Cline classic.

If there's a downside to the film, it's the same one as the first, in which you watch the story spin its wheels for over two hours, chock full of side quests and distractions, but nearly the entirety of the main quest is still under wraps, punting the ball yet again with the promise of another film in order to hope to learn just who all of these players are and why we should care about them at all.  It's that lack of caring about the fate of these characters, and of humanity as a whole, that has been a consistent problem with the Maze Runner series thus far.  Add to this the fact that every new non-zombie character introduced from out in the wasteland known as the Scorch is attractive, with perfect hair, manicured nails, sculpted eyebrows, and even a bit of make-up, you can see that this is a franchise in desperate need of some dirtying up of its world in order to give us a reason to buy it as a 'real world' instead of a glossy movie-world fantasy.

The Scorch Trials isn't a great movie, or really even a good one, but it isn't an overtly bad one either.  Though I'm scoring it a tick above The Maze Runner, it's really not by a lot, and really only because of the unique chances the story takes in the last third that blows a rare breeze of fresh air into a franchise that had, up to that point, been content to play things safe and not rock the boat in order to maintain the formula set forth by The Hunger Games.  It's perfectly fine for audiences not tired of the glut of dystopian teen adventure adaptations from YA novels, and if the veering off into inspired character touches and interesting set pieces (such as a Lost World-inspired battle on a cracking pane of glass), the dim future of Maze Runner might just be a little brighter for those waiting for one of the contenders for the Hunger Games throne to find its own voice.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo