Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
In the previews plastered all over television, Aidan Gillen’s character tells our heroes that they “won’t last one day out in the Scorch.” After seeing Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, it’s a given that neither will the viewer. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is an unpleasant reminder of the young-adult dystopia genre that has caught Hollywood like a terrible case of chlamydia. This disease has stuck around ever since The Hunger Games strolled into theaters and convinced people to pay them for sexy teens living in abject poverty.
In this installment of what should have been a stillborn franchise, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), his “it’s complicated” Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and his friends Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) are spirited away from the Maze by seemingly benevolent rebels to a heavily secured fortress out in the middle of a desert. They came with a few other people from the Maze, but they carried little impact or even dialogue. One of the greater strengths that The Maze Runner possessed was in its balanced cast, and the truly engrossing and interesting relationships and conflicts that can happen on the screen when the protagonist takes a step back and lets his fellow characters make a statement.
That isn’t the case in Scorch Trials. Thomas is the sole character focused on and everyone else shrinks back out of the spotlight, only to rear their heads when someone needs to act stupid in comparison to Thomas, who is treated as some sort of Jesus figure. In The Maze Runner, Minho is the leader of the Runners, a group of highly athletic teens who are also cartographers so skilled they can map out the entirety of an ever-changing maze in their head. In Scorch Trials, Minho is an incredibly gullible sap without an ounce of common sense or skepticism.
This doesn’t end with him, it extends to every character in the entire movie. Throughout all of Maze Runner, the audience was both told and shown how intelligent these characters are. In Scorch Trials, they’re all acting like a pair of chimps slinging their own shit at the camera. Teens who have been stuck living inside a labyrinth for two years are overly trusting of people who whisk them far away and refuse to answer any questions.
The people trying to harvest them for a cure are too short-sighted to consider just asking the immune teens to donate their cure like they would blood. Instead, they hook them all up to a milking machine and place them in a medical coma. Unsurprisingly, it turns out taking volatile and capable teens and treating them like cattle causes resistance on a massive scale.
Later escaping from the terrible desert facility of doom, our heroes walk through the desert and fight zombies, then walk through more desert to fight more zombies, so they can walk through more desert to fight more zombies. They are aided in their quest to walk through the desert to fight more zombies by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). These two exist, respectively, to be the scruffy-yet-lovable jerk, and the third part of the mandatory Love Triangle with Thomas and Teresa. Their quest is all so they can find a secret rebel group destroying the only production centers for the zombie cure, because there is a significant lack of “big-picture” thinkers among our heroes.
They are chased throughout the desert by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), and Janson (Aidan Gillen). The former is a good example of a three-dimensional Anti-Villain, whom was developed into such with little screen time and a good actress. The latter, on the other hand, inherits the mustache-twirlingly evil that his actor possessed in Game of Thrones and The Wire. It’s absolutely untenable that anybody would trust this man with anything, and it’s a shame that in a series where the characters are at their least three-dimensional, if nothing else, the main antagonist is a flat caricature of an old serial villain.
One thing that Scorch Trials does well, however, is the zombie portion. Known as “Cranks” in this god-forsaken hell hole of a setting, they are without a doubt the whole package. They’re numerous, strong and fast, and our heroes are scarcely equipped with weaponry that can defeat them, and for good reasons. There are scientists who have found a cure but there are issues with supply and distribution that force people to make hard choices.
Whether encountered on their own or in numbers, when the Cranks appear, they are absolutely terrifying. They make sense as a threat and feel more like a force of nature than mere mortals. If anything can be said about this installment of Maze Runner, it’s got about one-half of a good zombie movie wedged inside.
The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is best described as in possession of both substance and style, neither of which are truly its own. Watching it feels like 20th Century Fox cut apart varying Young Adult Dystopia flicks like The Hunger Games and Divergent, and crazy-glued them together in no discernible order while saying “I made this”. It’s clear that the YA Dystopia is this generation’s western, a genre which any studio can pump out for relatively cheap and ensure a safe return.
But for every good western which stood at the top of the hill, there was a mountain of trash buried beneath it. The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is part of that mountain; don’t watch it.