Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
Directed by Wes Ball
The young adult audience is under the weight of a million dystopian stories. From The Hunger Games to Divergent, it seems like the stories of teens caught in dystopian futures and segregated somehow is the new[ish] thing that young adults identify the most with, especially when those segregated teens unite in a common effort to fight against a power that's trying to control them. The Maze Runner series is dystopian, features teens as the protagonists, and tells their story fighting oppression for a common good, but it's still fun.
Picking up right where the previous movie, The Maze Runner, left off, Scorch Trials brings us right back to Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and the Gladers, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores). The helicopter that picked them up after their maze escape is landing on a helipad in front of a massive compound, but as it lands a scattered gang of zombie-like people are attacking. The Gladers are rushed inside the compound as heavily-armed guards protect them. Inside, Mr. Jansen (Aiden Gillen) explains that the Gladers are safe now, along with many others they've saved from similar mazes, from the dangers they've been unaware of: the destroyed world outside that they call the Scorch, the rampant disease they call the Flare that turns people into aggressive, zombie-like creatures which are called Cranks, and the destructive organization called WICKED which had run the maze experiments. With the help of Aris (Jacob Lofland), from another maze, Thomas discovers the truth, Jansen works for WICKED, and the entire 'rescue' effort is just a trick to gain their cooperation, resulting in the eventual deaths of all the maze inhabitants. In imminent danger, Thomas and Aris barely manage to get their group of Gladers out of the compound, escaping into the desert under the cover of a storm. Thomas comes up with a plan, which the group begrudgingly accepts, to get them across the inhospitable landscape and to a militant enemy of WICKED called The Right Arm. They quickly run into Cranks and other problems and problematic people as they struggle towards their destination, bringing the group closer together with each trial faced.
If that sounds like a very full story, that's because it certainly is. The Scorch Trials features a dystopian landscape that is not only environmentally devastated, but is also ravaged by a disease that turns people [more or less] into zombies and is largely controlled by an organization that seems to be doing more harm than good. So there are a huge number of different things going on and director Wes Ball shoehorns every aspect into the film; besides all of the group dynamics and thrilling running as Thomas and his friends seek safe haven, there's also the desert, the storms, the disease, the zombies, lack of water, old buildings that definitely aren't up to code, and various groups of survivors wanting to kill each other. So when WICKED isn't chasing them there's ravenous zombies to worry about; after they get rid of the zombies they start to run out of water; after they run out of water they're getting struck by lightning; when they find shelter they get strung up; when they're free, WICKED's found them again; then there's more zombies; then there's more people; then there's WICKED. The Scorch Trials becomes a staircase story, an exercise in escalation where there's always something else or something new to worry about. The suspense lies partly in that, because after the first couple moments it becomes easily apparent that each roadblock isn't the last one; they'll find a way to keep going and the suspense is lying in wait at the next roadblock.
With so many aspects to the story, it feels very long-winded at times, almost like there are 3 endings but it just keeps going. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing but, at 2 hours and change, Scorch Trials feels a lot longer than it actually is. And with all of the patronizing acronyms and attempts at catchy names it treats the audience like a child the entire time. WICKED is actually WCKD, an organization called World Catastrophe Killzone Department, and just feels like a bullshit way to call an organization WICKED; there are Gladers; the disease is Flare; the zombies are Cranks; a car is Bertha; everything has some witty name but it doesn't fit into any logical vision of the future, they're just witty names for the sake of it, almost like there was little to no research into how languages change over time.
Despite these problems with the writing, with average acting, average photography, and average sound editing, Scorch Trials proves to be an entertaining sci-fi flick. The science fiction aspect is also utterly trope and worn out, but all of the average-ness comes together to form a fun adventure through dystopia. Although Thomas and his friends are oddly cliché characters their story is still fun. Maybe because of it's vast problems, it easily becomes an escapist journey. Thomas is never in any real danger, despite how hard they try to make it appear that way, so it becomes a fun, adventure to see his story, knowing he's gonna be fine.
TL;DR: Scorch Trials itself is a mediocre story. Actually there's a lot about the movie that's mediocre. But it's still a fun, dystopian adventure. A lot of what Wes Ball tries to accomplish falls flat behind the fact that this should be a fun, thrilling, action-filled journey, as opposed to taking itself as seriously as a dramatic, sci-fi, thriller. So if you don't take this seriously and forgive the mistakes immediately then you'll have a good time.
- Acting – 14 / 20
- Story – 12 / 20
- Cinematography – 14 / 20
- Soundtrack – 6 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 9 / 10
- Sci-Fi/Thriller/Action – 6 / 10
- Other – 0 / 10