MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ Fleets Over Scorched Earth

Maze Runner

Film: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Starring: Dylan O’ Brien, Barry Pepper, Kaya Scodelario, Alan Tudyk
Directed by: Wes Ball

“Another YA movie, another day.” Images ripped from The Hunger Games and Divergent danced around in my head before the seeing the second entry in the Maze Runner series. Authoritarian governments, dystopian or apocalyptic society, and some general motivation for why the world is like it is, like an incurable virus or zombie outbreak.

What I got doesn’t exactly defy any of my preconceptions, but as a petri dish of worn-out tropes, The Scorch Trials moves fast and sports a grimly idiosyncratic vision amongst repeated imagery. The film has absolutely no regard for why any of these characters exist or what their goals are, but sometimes the most aimless of features reap a few blessings.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow “Gladers” have finally escaped the maze. Unfortunately, the organization that gave them refuge is trying to harvest their bodies to synthesize a cure for “The Flare,” a disease that turns people into rage zombies. The troupe escapes only to find “The Scorch,” the desert wasteland that is now their world. Now, they must defy the elements and people (more like rage zombies, really) that stand as obstacles on their path to freedom.

Listen, I know what I just described above sounds like the antithesis to what you may want to see this weekend, but hear me out. The Scorch Trials has such a passé attitude towards its audience. It has a very thin skeleton of a plot to work from, but every new obstacle that the “Gladers” meet comes with a bit of impetuosity from great character actors like Giancarlo Esposito (you know, your favorite baddie from Breaking Bad), Alan Tudyk (Firefly fans, rejoice!), Lili Taylor and Barry Pepper. All of the actors listed above get grand entrances like they’re your favorite superhero finally being introduced after being shrouded in secrecy. They all play their roles with that same amount of heightened excitement that no one else emotes, trying their hardest to make their impression on this threadbare universe. And you know what, it works. Esposito gets to chew scenery and exact vengeance in the finale. Alan Tudyk hosts an apocalypse party that would make Marilyn Manson jealous. Lili Taylor gets the one ‘okay’ monologue in the whole film. And Barry Pepper gets to don his 2010-era True Grit beard and fire a truck-mounted turret while oozing insanity.

Director Wes Ball handles everything with a weird amount of efficiency, too. The big set pieces he’s called upon to shoot have an anarchic sense of fun to them. The first 45 or so minutes are a slog, though. Let’s have a bunch of kids keep arriving at locations and running away from them with little to no exposition. Kind of reeks like a rushed production. After all, the first film in the series came out only a year ago. These movies feel like they’re manufactured by machines and pushed off the conveyor belt for consumption. Luckily, the supporting players are throwing subtle wrenches into the mix left and right.

The main troupe, on the other hand, is filled with a bunch of young actors working off of characters in a script that feel like paragraph descriptions on a casting notice. The only way they’re discernible from one another is because of their race, skin color or gender. And unfortunately, they are all playing the material incredibly boldfaced.

To make the universe even more indiscernible, the film shot in locations and used designs so close to other post-apocalyptic features that it feels like its own theme park of forgotten attractions. Oh look, here is a really similar-looking location from Terminator Salvation. Wait a second, that plane that someone just rode in on looks exactly like it was in Terminator Salvation. And oh my god, why do these zombies look and act exactly like the ones in I Am Legend? I’m sensing a trend here.

The good is even with the bad in The Scorch Trials. For me, it’s a generic time-waster that should be seen if you’re into fleeting moments of interest and a universe that could give a shit less about what you want out of it.

GRADE: C

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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