Mark Reviews Movies

The Scorch Trials


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language)

Running Time: 2:11

Release Date: 9/18/15

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 17, 2015

The first act of The Scorch Trials begins to recapture the sense of mystery that made its predecessor The Maze Runner an effective little puzzler. Like the first film, this movie throws us right into the middle of a mysterious place, about which we have as much information as the story's hero. We and he have none, really, and so we're all learning as we go. It's obvious this particular locale isn't as much of a riddle as the Glade and the maze that surrounded it from the first film, but surely, this facility in the middle of a desert certainly possesses some secrets.

Why are the participants in the experiment of the maze here? What do the people who run the place want with them and other participants of other mazes? Why does the leader of the place select a handful of these guinea pigs every day, and to where do they go? There are answers, of course, and they arrive fairly quickly after our hero and a new ally do some basic sleuthing. After we get those answers, though, we're even more in the dark than when we began—and not on account of some new layers of mystery. The answers here make us wonder what the reasoning behind any of this—not to mention everything that came before it—actually is.

What this sequel reveals is that the elaborate scheme created by the "evil" organization, which is trying to save humanity from a debilitating plague (It's such a dastardly goal) but still serves as the collective antagonist of the series, exists solely for there to be an elaborate scheme. There's no internal logic to the plan, but it definitely gives the heroes an excuse to run and fight ad nauseam.

The story picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of the preceding film. Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow Gladers have escaped the maze and learned that it was a test performed by WCKD (the "World Catastrophe Killzone Department," whatever the hell that means), led by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson). Another group took the survivors into a helicopter, and Thomas awakens upon the group's arrival at a remote facility, which is under attack by people who have been infected by a neural disease brought about by a massive solar flare.

The Gladers and the inhabitants of the other mazes are immune to the disease, although this movie suggests they might not be. Of course, since this flies in the face of WCKD's plan to harvest the immune people's blood to create a cure, the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin (adapting James Dashner's book) never mentions this vital information again.

Anyway, things obviously are not what they seem at this place, despite the seemingly good nature of Janson (Aidan Gillen), the facility's head. Soon enough, Thomas, his old friends from the Glade, and a few new (read: disposable) acquaintances are on the run in the wasteland called "the Scorch." They're looking for a resistance group that might be able to protect them from WCKD (It's pronounced "wicked," but based on what it stands for, wouldn't it be "wocked" or "worked"?).

Everything that worked in the first film—the isolated locale, the details of a makeshift society, the aura of mystery—is tossed aside here. The sequel expands the geographic scope, but it only offers a generic, post-apocalyptic landscape. It provides more characters (Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar, as the leader of the resistance and his pseudo-daughter, play the most notable newcomers), but they're even more poorly defined than the established characters, who become anonymous here, too.

There is plenty of information revealed as the story progresses, but those explanations are as redundant as the plot, which goes from chase to chase (through an assortment of drab places—an abandoned mall, a warehouse, a sewer, a collapsed skyscraper), with an occasional fight serving as a mild interruption to the monotony. Speaking of monotonous, the dialogue in these action sequences consists almost exclusively of repeated shouts of "Go," "Come on," "Let's go," "Move," or some combination of those exclamations. It grows tiresome and annoying pretty quickly, especially since the yelling seems to have replaced any attempt to establish or further define these characters.

This is such a considerable dip in quality from the first film that one suspects some sort of changing of the guard has occurred, but no, the cast, screenwriter, and director Wes Ball have all returned for this installment. They're simply working with far less intriguing and far more frustrating material. The Scorch Trials is a reminder that bigger is not always better, that some questions are better left unanswered, and that change is rarely welcome when it spoils a good thing.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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