Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is not a great film, but it had every potential to utilize its arsenal and failed in one key aspect. While the first film of The Maze Runner series was a fantastically singular introduction into this world, the sequel takes the group of ragtag youngsters and throws them into a plagued world, where people either live in sealed in and cold underground bunkers, or have been stricken ill with a virus that turns them into Cranks, or, to make things simpler, quick zombies. It’s a bleak vision for the future, and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends are seemingly the key for the cure for humanity. At least that’s what Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) believes and she’ll do anything she can to ensure she gets her hands on them. Starting immediately where the first film left off, the group finds themselves in the care of the mysterious Janson (Aiden Gillen), who, unsurprisingly, has ulterior motives. With the help of new kid Aris (Jacob Lofland), Thomas realizes these nefarious plans and gets him and his friends out of the W.C.K.D headquarters and out into the scorched landscapes, where it becomes from start to finish, one giant chase sequence. Along the way they run into Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who have been hiding out from W.C.K.D for years, and it’s with them that the movie truly comes to life.
Let’s face it, in order for the Maze Runner: Scorch Trials to be a great film, it had to overcome the near impossible hurdle of its source material, which is rather unimpressive. That, coupled with a disorganized adaptation by screenwriter T.S. Nowlin, creates a film that is quite frankly, incomprehensible at times. Little character development happens in the two-hour-plus movie, and overall it feels like a race from introduction to finale, actively playing the bridge between the story. There are certain aspects of the film that seem as if they were afterthoughts, moments where throughout putting the film together, they needed reasons for characters to arrive from point A to point B.
The script is a mess, and there’s a familiarity with the film’s narrative that was refreshingly missing in the previous film, one which abandoned explanation in order to create a real sense of mystery, one that accompanied our leads amnesiac’s headspace. However, despite the scripts determination to write a lackluster and discombobulating film, the director and a charismatic cast of characters manages to take the scraps left for them and create a film that in the end is a highly enjoyable theater experience. The major flaw is that the writing was unable to service the rest of the talent at hand.
The crop of character actors the film rounded up is the first aspect that catches the viewer’s eye, creating a world beyond the fresh faces we’d met in the isolated glade. From Clarkson and Gillen’s icy baddies, Esposito’s wild card nature and chemistry with O’Brien and Salazar, to a scene stealing Alan Tudyk as a depraved nightclub owner and Lili Taylor as the leader of a rebellion, these actors are all putting their all into what could have been simply paycheck performances, and it instantly enriches the setting they’re inhabiting. Of course, this film belongs to the younger cast. O’Brien has grown into this more since the first installment, playing much more of an action hero, although still showcasing his vulnerabilities. The cast has a wonderful camaraderie, and while I’d have loved to see more of Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s calm Newt and Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, the film does a decent balancing act of all of its characters. The main star of the film though, even more than a strong O’Brien, is Wes Ball, the director.
Without Ball’s innovative and youthful imagination, this film would have been too run of the mill to save. Ball’s direction along with the cinematography by Gyula Pados and sweeping score by John Paesano, the film creates a reliable tangibility. We feel the grime and blink the sand out of our eyes. We feel the claustrophobia as our characters get stuck in a dead end tunnel with the cranks. There’s some beautiful imagery that comes along, whether it be the wide shot of the silhouetted characters as they hear a gunshot in the distance as a fall friend makes the only move he has, or as Thomas awakes in the eye of a violent thunderstorm, with the landscape empty except for swirling blues and grays. There’s a hypnotic rave scene in the third act that seems pulled from another movie altogether, as Thomas and Brenda are drugged and trying to find their friends in a sea of lost faces.
This plus a action sequence in an off kilter skyscraper with Thomas and Brenda against cranks demonstrates Ball’s skillset and just how far he has grown as a filmmaker. Instead of the action scenes growing repetitive (which they easily could have due to the sheer amount of them), they instead always seem to be able to find a new angle. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a hell of a lot of fun, highly energetic and action packed as its speeds through one perilous event to another.
With a refreshingly diverse cast, a charming group dynamic, and a director who has a strong and thorough vision, even if the writing doesn’t, The Scorch Trials is at the very least an entertaining film, and sometimes that’s all you need it to be.
It’s just a shame to think about the “what could have been.”
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is out in theaters now.