The new installment of the Maze Runner series, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, is predictable and overall less interesting than its predecessor, but generally entertaining if you don’t mind that sort of thing. It cannot stand on its own in any case, unless you’re ready for over two hours of characters you barely care about running frantically from place to place in desert-like environs. The movie opens pretty much where the first one stopped, with the group of teens that had escaped from the Maze and (seemingly) defeated the Evil Company known as WCKD. They are in the hands of their rescuers, a paramilitary group who brings them to a base full of other kids who have also escaped from other mazes. They are given various ominous medical tests and at times either herded or outright locked up to keep them from exploring, supposedly for their own safety. And if you buy into their rescuers’ story for a single minute then let me tell you about this bridge I’ve got to sell you. (Fair warning: From this point on there may be SPOILERS.*)
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is our protagonist, which means in this film we get little to no character development from any of the other teens with him. We care about Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) mostly because Thomas does, but that’s pretty much it. If I hadn’t seen the first movie (and read the first book**), I doubt I’d be able to tell you the other characters’ names. In fact, I’m still not sure I could do that. At any rate, it doesn’t take Thomas long to befriend the squirrely Aris (Jacob Lofland), who shows him what we’ve expected since the opening scene: they haven’t escaped WCKD at all, but are in another WCKD facility where their maze-fellows are being harvested to find a “cure” for… something.
Thomas and Aris conveniently overhear the Plot and help their friends escape out into the Scorch, which is the desolate wasteland outside of the WCKD facilities. They are chased, they find a seemingly abandoned place to hide….
And then, Zombies.***
From this point on, the movie falls headfirst into Zombie Movie Retread and most vestiges of the originality of this particular world and story are pretty lost. Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good zombie movie, but these seem to be out of nowhere. Other than the jump-scare tactics (which are used pretty well, I jumped in my seat at least twice and that takes a lot, so kudos to the director/editor on that!), it’s hard to care much what happens to Thomas’s friends because they just aren’t given much depth. I know, I know, we should already care about them from the first film, but this one gives us nothing to hold onto, not even a flashback or a friendly moment between them, at least not until well into the second half.
The pattern goes: flee to base, get captured, escape. Rinse and repeat.
The ending does come back around to the bigger plot again, so if you don’t mind the large filling of Zombie Movie in the middle, there are some Maze Runner bookends to this one that leave me at least wondering how it will end (though I’m sure I could hazard a pretty accurate guess).
One thing I noticed pretty early on was the lack of female characters. Sure there were a couple of female scientists at the WCKD facility, and the Big Baddie is female, but other than Teresa, there isn’t anyone until the gang meets Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and her father-figure Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito). These were by far the most interesting characters in the movie, by the way. The interesting thing, though, is that Brenda and Teresa never speak to one another. In fact, though there are other female characters who come and go, they almost exclusively talk to Thomas. They don’t even make eye contact with anyone else. It was… odd.
As the protagonist, Thomas has to be the one to try and save the day, of course, but when the other characters act with little to no agency it makes for a dull plot. Thomas is always the one to speak up, always the one to act first, and always the one running from the zombies (and leading them toward his friends). Sigh.
Have you seen this movie yet? What’s your take on it?
*I don’t usually put SPOILER warnings in my reviews because the nature of a movie review is to discuss things like plot and character development, but I feel that there is an element in this one that, if you don’t already know about, you should get to experience it first hand, if you so choose.
**I have not read the second book, but I did enjoy the first one and I can’t help but wonder if either the movie lost a whole lot of depth to the story, or if the middle book is as lacking as the filmed version would lead me to believe. Hm.
***Let me repeat that I have not read the second book, so the zombies were honestly a COMPLETE surprise to me and felt pretty much out of left field. I take that back; they seemed out of context more than anything. I knew there was something “wrong” with the outside world by the end of the first book/film but I didn’t know the problem was Zombie Apocalypse, so it felt jarring in the midst of this other story of survival.