Last year, in keeping with the YA books-turned-movies theme that has become so popular in the past decade, we saw James Dashner’s The Maze Runner brought to life on the big screen. I reviewed the film back in September, and found it enjoyable and entertaining, with a solid cast to make up for the sometimes-confusing story. This year, director Wes Ball and his cast are back with The Scorch Trials, the anticipated sequel to The Maze Runner. Audiences enjoyed the first… but how will they feel about the second?
In The Scorch Trials, the story picks up exactly where Maze Runner left off: the Gladers have been rescued from WCKD and the Glade, and are transported somewhere safe. They’re introduced to many other teenagers from many other mazes, even picking up a new friend named Aris (Jacob Lofland) along the way. Their rescuers run tests on them and promise them a safe new life. But when Aris shows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) that this place isn’t as safe as it seems, the Gladers decide to break out and make a run for it. On the other side of the compound walls, however, are all sorts of dangers… and it’s hard to know just who is friend and who is foe.
Let me be very clear: The Scorch Trials is not a film that can stand on its own. The movie jumps in with both feet, barely touching on anything that happened in the story previously. The film requires its audience to know and understand the world, its characters, and their struggles—it certainly spends no time recapping them. Do not take your friends to see this movie if they haven’t seen the previous one! I have no problem with films doing this; in fact, I prefer when they don’t use flashbacks and exposition to recap the previous film’s plot. It’s just important to know for anyone going in who isn’t familiar with the first film in the trilogy. Also, just like with Maze Runner, the end of this film doesn’t feel like an end, either. The movie gives you a nice big battle and some brief denouement, sets up the immediate goals for the beginning of the next film, and then ends. It’s a little frustrating that the film is set up this way, as it really harms the arc of the story. The characters begin in one place emotionally, and at the end of the film, they’re in that same space. They change locations, yes, but there’s very little growth. It’s difficult to do the second film in a trilogy without having that film all feel a bit like filler, and unfortunately, that’s mostly what The Scorch Trials feels like: filler between The Maze Runner and the final film in the series, The Death Cure.
It’s a shame, really, that The Scorch Trials suffers from this problem. It affects everything from pacing to actual story elements, and while there are stakes and problems for the characters, it’s quite clear that nothing of real value is going to be lost just yet—there’s a third film to come, after all. The writers almost don’t seem to know how to spend their time, even though the film clocks in at over two hours long. It dwells too long in some places, drags in others, and draws out fight scenes with Cranks (the zombie-esque diseased people left for dead out in the Scorch) to levels that almost wind up feeling dull. The film’s story was changed significantly from the book’s, with many plot points, motivations, and character arcs having been removed or altered. If you’re changing things, why not take the opportunity to create more plot points, to push the story further, to give it some real stakes instead of leaving the film as filler between the beginning and end of the trilogy? Why not add some real danger and give our characters real consequences? Why not give us something more to digest and experience emotionally in these two hours?
So what are the good aspects of The Scorch Trials? The strength of the movie, as in the first instalment, is its cast. With many young actors that carry the movie forward and several older veteran actors playing key roles, the film is well-acted and the characters are interesting, despite the movie’s problems. O’Brien, as before, does a good job playing Thomas as the film’s moral centre, even when Thomas is feeling lost, scared, or hopeless. It’s nice to see Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee back as Newt and Minho again, as well. The acting is solid across the board—save for Aidan Gillen’s attempt at an American accent. It was jumbled and all over the place despite his best efforts. Why not just let his character be Irish and save everyone the trouble?
The film is visually interesting, as well. With beautiful cinematography by Gyula Pados, comprehensive editing by Dan Zimmerman, and seamless visual effects, the world of the Scorch is brought to life just as richly as the world of the Glade. It’s great work all around from the camera and post-production team. It’s just a shame that the script didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
For those who enjoyed The Maze Runner and its cast, The Scorch Trials will be decently entertaining until the final film of the trilogy is released in a year or two. For those new to the franchise? Get yourselves a copy of The Maze Runner before heading to the theatre. The Scorch Trials won’t make a lick of sense otherwise.
The Scorch Trials is now in wide release all across North America.