Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
Having been rescued from The Maze, which turned out to be a sick experiment, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers (Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Alexander Flores, Dexter Darden) thought they have found sanctuary. Their refuge is short-lived, however, when a Glader from another maze, Aris (Jacob Lowland), suspects that there is something sinister going on in the facility where they are staying.
Thomas and Aris investigate and discover that bodies of young people—unconscious, suspended in air, with tubes coming out of them—are being harvested. Thomas and his team escape the facility and take their chances out there in The Scorch, an area of desert land devoid of resources, where there is death… and disease after death.
“The Scorch Trials,” based on the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin and directed by Wes Ball, makes the mistake of being a sequel that is reluctant to expand its fascinating mythology. Thus, even though the action sequences are kinetic, energetic, and often thrilling, one cannot help but feel there ought to have been more substance—from character development, providing a picture of how the world was like prior to the disease called the Flare, and an explanation of how the disease works biologically. At one point, I felt as though the writing were simplified in order to appeal to the general public.
The chases are executed with a sense of danger and urgency. They do not only occur at night or in the dark although these are the more memorable sequences, particularly one that takes place in a seemingly abandoned shopping center. The director does not mistake shaking the camera relentlessly for suspense. Ball knows when to keep it still, how to quiet a scene, and build a certain eeriness to make us believe in a lived-in world where most of humanity has perished. I am actually interested in seeing Ball handle a horror film since zombie-like creatures run amok here.
What separates this series from lesser dystopian stories is the content of the dialogue. Not once are we ever made to sit through two lovers trying to express their romantic feelings for one another or how much they are willing to sacrifice to be together. Instead, especially toward the third act, characters talk about the trauma of the past, missing memories, passing of friends or loved ones, and not knowing with certainty whether someone they care about is alive or dead—and the torment that comes with it.
As much as I enjoyed the adrenaline-fueled chases and observing how the infected looks (which varies as a group depending on the area), I wished there had been more smaller, quieter moments where these teenagers are allowed to hold extended conversations in their bunks, by the fire, or atop a cliff. These more personal moments work because the cast are composed of real performers capable of invoking the necessary expressions, intonations, and body language to make the scenes convincing. These are not just people who have the right bone structure to look good for the camera.
The villains are not completely established as complex characters—confounding because Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen are actors who are capable of saying a lot by standing in one place and simply breathing a certain way. There are a few lines that hint or express that these two are doing the terrible things they do for the sake of the greater good, but the screenplay does not show enough of their humanity. As a result, when they do something horrible, they still come across like one-dimensional antagonists.
“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” ought to have had more script revisions in order to reach a balance so that the final product is both an entertaining science fiction thriller and a thoughtful rumination of morality and ethics in connection to our modern society and where we might be heading. Despite its shortcomings, the picture is worth a mild recommendation with the optimism that the filmmakers will take a bit more time to really think about what kind of work they wish to create and get the next one exactly right.