Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 18, 2015

Dylan O'Brien stars in 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials'
Dylan O'Brien stars in 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials'  (Source:20th Century Fox)

Longer, dumber and more violent than its predecessor, "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" is a monotonously grim follow-up to last year's equally lackluster first entry of this dystopian sci-fi franchise.

Based on a series of young-adult novels by James Dashner, this second installment picks up right where "The Maze Runner" left off. After making it out of the titular maze alive, the group of angst-ridden teens known as the "Gladers" are transported to a shelter full of other kids who survived experimentation by the corporation known as WCKD (pronounced 'wicked'... subtle, right?). The outpost is run by a mysterious man named Janson (Aidan Gillen of "Game of Thrones"), who informs the youngsters that the area has been designed with the intent of keeping them safe from the zombie-like virus known as the Flare, which has infected the majority of the world's population.

However, our sullen protagonist, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) suspects that their supposed guardian may have ulterior motives. Before long, the "Gladers" escape from the compound into the harsh, desert wastelands that their planet has been reduced to, where they are forced to fight off against both corrupt military forces and humanoid monsters.

Wes Ball returns to the director's chair for this sequel, and his workmanlike approach combined with T.S. Nowlin's convoluted screenplay is a main reason why "The Scorch Trials" feels like such an interminable slog. There's no distinctive cinematic voice here, and as a result the film resembles little more than a hodgepodge of blandly staged action sequences, loud clanging noises, and chunks of vague expositional dialogue.

After the gorgeous cinematography of a post-apocalyptic setting in a contemporary blockbuster such as "Mad Max: Fury Road," Ball's rudimentary visual palette, combined with Nowlin's stilted writing, make the film even more depressingly tedious by comparison. It all feels so formulaic and lazy that the picture might as well be titled "Generic Adaptation of a Young-Adult Franchise: The Second One."

The cast doesn't inhabit characters within this film; they're blatantly cardboard stereotypes. Dylan O'Brien is likable enough as Thomas, but he's stuck playing a brooding, personality-free clichť of a hero, with no opportunity to flesh him out beyond moody reaction shots. The same goes for the rest of the adolescents, who, despite being a racially diverse assemblage of actors, are merely stock figures to be killed off one by one. When they're not sulking, they're being chased by some antagonistic force while consistently screaming lines such as, "Let's get the hell outta here!" and "Go! Go! Go!" (Seriously, if you played a drinking game that revolved around these characters saying the word 'go,' you'd be wasted by the 45-minute mark.)

As for the adult co-stars, there's an array of talent on display, and it's genuinely upsetting to question why on Earth all of these remarkable people are here (apart from having bills to pay, obviously). Patricia Clarkson ("Far From Heaven") returns as the chief antagonist, Ava Paige, the ice queen in charge of WCKD, who is willing to sacrifice anyone to find a cure for the Flare. Clarkson is one of the most gifted actresses working today, but to see her play a one-dimensional villain who exclaims excruciating lines of dialogue that include, "I'm not a monster, I'm a doctor!" frankly, made me want to stab myself in the face. Other top-notch actors who appear in bit parts include Lili Taylor ("Short Cuts"), Giancarlo Esposito ("Breaking Bad") and Alan Tudyk ("Firefly"), who are all wasted in one form or another amidst the murkiness of the plot.

But to say this film has a plot is far too kind; it's more a series of random occurrences that happen to propel the so-called story forward in a completely inconsequential manner. People die, but their fatalities mean nothing when you have no clue as to who they are or what their relationship means to the surviving players within the story. There are also a bunch of cheap "gotcha" moments simply due to a lack of dramatic urgency, such as when one kid gets viciously struck by lightning, yet, moments later, is totally fine. I couldn't help but think of the brilliantly satirical gag in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," when the same exact thing happens in slapstick fashion to Sam (Jared Gillman), who hilariously brushes it off by saying, "I'm okay," and proceeds as if the incident never happened.

By the time that "The Scorch Runner" reaches it's anticlimactic cliffhanger of a conclusion, you'll most likely feel relieved that it's over as opposed to having a knee-jerk reaction that you've been cheated into a 131-minute trailer for the next entry in the franchise. While I may not be the biggest fan of similar genre pictures as, say, "The Hunger Games" series, at least those films have meat on their bones: They tackle the media's glorification of violence, satirize celebrity culture, and criticize how the blue collar workers are punished as a result of the upper class' tyrannical attempts to maintain political power. "The Maze Runner" films come off like stale carbon copies of those pictures; they lack audacity, progressive ideologies, and, most importantly, heart.



Teresa :: Kaya Scodelario
Jorge :: Giancarlo Esposito
Janson :: Aidan Gillen
Vince :: Barry Pepper
Brenda :: Rosa Salazar
Mary Cooper :: Lili Taylor
Ava Paige :: Patricia Clarkson
Minho :: Ki Hong Lee
Frypan :: Dexter Darden
Newt :: Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Winston :: Alexander Flores
Aris Jones :: Jacob Lofland
Harriet :: Nathalie Emmanuel


Director :: Wes Ball
Screenwriter :: T.S. Nowlin
Producer :: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein
Producer :: Wyck Godfrey
Producer :: Marty Bowen
Producer :: Lee Stollman
Producer :: Joe Hartwick
Cinematographer :: Gyula Pados
Film Editor :: Dan Zimmerman
Original Music :: John Paesano
Production Design :: Daniel Dorrance
Art Director :: Andrew Cahn
Costume Designer :: Sanja Hays
Casting :: Denise Chamian


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