"They are tirelessly running but are not going anywhere.”
The Gladers are done solving the maze. Now, it is time to do some running.
The Maze Runner rocked 2014 when it featured juveniles figuring their way out of a grand-scale labyrinthine experimental prison. Now, the escapees are back on another colossal adventure. In Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, still based on James Dashner’s best-selling young adult trilogy and with returning director Wes Ball, our badass pack will find themselves chased by zombies across miles-stretch of oppressive desert.
The sequel immediately takes off after the events of the first movie. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of the Gladers are transported to another high-security facility. Janson (Aidan Gillen), a turtleneck-clad man who appears to be running the compound’s operation, offers them food, clothes, bed and shelter. On top of those, he promises them protection from WCKED (World Catastrophe Killzone Department), the pseudo-government agency tasked with finding the cure for a viral plague that decimated humanity after a massive solar flare.
The Gladers and all the survivors from other mazes are gathered together every dinner and some are randomly whisked away to presumably new homes. Thomas does not feel right about it and with the help of Aris (Jacob Lofland), he finds out that Janson is secretly communicating with Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), WCKD’s matriarchal doctor, and that the facility performs despicable medical experiments on the kids.
Immediately, Thomas gathers his troop and once again escapes another WCKD dungeon. They travel through the Scorch, an urban center turned desert, and are chased by the virus-infected fast-moving zombies called Cranks. En route, they meet mercenary leader Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his feisty daughter Brenda (Rosa Salazar) in an abandoned factory, and together, they head to a distant mountain range where they hope to connect with the rebel group known as the Right Arm Camp led by Vince (Barry Pepper) and Mary Cooper (Lili Taylor).
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is grander than its predecessors in all aspects. It contains more characters, back stories, locations, and energy. It is paced faster and features more expansive, breathtaking visuals. While the first film condemned the teen to cracking the wonders of the labyrinth, the sequel pushes them to confront the enemies and expose their atrocities. There are no mazes this time; instead, there are plenty of places and nooks to run to. The present movie may be larger in scale but bigger does not necessarily better. It lacks the same sense of mystery and urgency found in the first instalment. It is also very episodic and redundant as the guys run from one location to another and from one adult to another, and yet, they are essentially never going anywhere. These chases are repetitive and gruelling but director Ball manages to keep the film thrilling by sustaining visual dynamism and by playfully shooting each frame. It has plenty of tropes borrowed from drama, thriller and horror genre (i.e. zombie hunt, Brenda on the glass pane) but he makes them appear refreshing and exciting. The locations are also expensively designed, particularly the ruined skyscrapers in the Scorch.
With so much going on, there is no significant plot advancement as any emerging fact gets lost in the chase or too murky to reinforce the storyline. Details of the plague have always been very vague and connection between the solar flare and the spread of deadly virus, as well as the curative enzyme coming from the young ones, are not convincingly discussed. With the overflow of back stories, there has been nothing about Ava Paige and her antagonism is rather speculative and impersonal.
In connection to this, the present film offers no character development and the group appears less cohesive than before. With all that running and with the characters purely spontaneous about it, there is no time for their personalities to grow or the audience to be given a deeper sense of understanding of who they are. Thomas is still a subtly withdrawn individual and O’Brien is quite efficient in withholding emotions. His buddies are just as before – Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) remains snappy and clowny, Frypan (Dexter Darden) unmotivated, Minho (Ki Hong Lee) reliable and supportive, and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) pessimistic and mysterious. While Clarkson, Pepper, andTaylor seem underused, Gillen’s Janson is a futuristic version of his HBO’s Game of Thrones Baelish. Thanks to Esposito and Salazar for bringing comic vibes to this overly self-serious movie.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is grander but vaguer as its lack of specificity keeps audience in the dark as to the motivations of the characters and events. It is crazily more energetic and with more stunning visuals; yet, it becomes exhausting and suffocating early on because of repetitiveness and scarcity of emotional investment.
Production companies: Gotham Group, Temple Hill Entertainment
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Esposito, Kaya Scodelario, Aidan Gillen, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland
Director: Wes Ball
Screenwriter: T.S. Nowlin
Producers: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Lee Stollman, Joe Hartwick Jr.
Executive producers: Lindsay Williams, Eddie Gamarra, Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin
Director of photography: Gyula Pados
Production designer: Daniel T. Dorrance
Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Editor: Dan Zimmerman
Music: John Paesano