Big Screen Streaming: Scorch Trials

Big Screen Streaming: Scorch Trials

-Film Reviewed by Roger Market-


NOTE: The following review contains spoilers about the world of The Maze Runner. Read on only if you have seen/read the first entry in the trilogy or you don’t mind being spoiled.

The first movie in the Maze Runner trilogy opened at number one in the box office last September, grossing over $32 million opening weekend. The film received a positive review on Monologging, highlighting The Maze Runner’s capable young actors and spectacular effects, performed on a relatively low budget. One year later, the movie’s follow-up, The Scorch Trials, picks up where viewers left off, commanding double the budget. The second movie, too, opened at number one, with only marginally lower box office numbers. So how does the sequel compare?

First, some background about the world of The Maze Runner. In the first movie (and book), a group of young men are held captive in “The Glade,” a forested area that’s walled off and surrounded by a dangerous “living” maze. Each month, for several years now, a new captive has arrived with only a name and no other memories. The movie begins with the arrival of Thomas, the main character of the series, and the subsequent arrival of Teresa, the first female Glader. Similarly deprived of memory, Thomas and Teresa befriend the rest of the Gladers and lead them out of the maze. After escaping into a secret laboratory, the Gladers discover that a disease has infected the outside world. The maze was the first in a series of tests by the World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, or WICKED (but WCKD in the movies), to find a cure. While some of the Gladers are control subjects, others, including Thomas, are immune to the disease and therefore represent the antidote to the epidemic.

The Scorch Trials follows Thomas and his friends as they leave the laboratory and take shelter with newfound adult allies, who appear to be fighting against WCKD and its unethical experiments. But things are not as they seem, and Thomas quickly discovers that their so-called allies are, in fact, part of WCKD. With this realization, Thomas, and his group must either stay in the clutches of WCKD and allow further invasive tests or go out into the harsh, desertlike world called The Scorch. As viewers might expect, the group opts to leave, and so begins a new adventure.

Their escape mirrors several close calls from the original movie, in which Thomas must run, jump, and slide through a tight space in the nick of time. This stunt is familiar by now, and viewers will likely see it again when the last part of the trilogy arrives in theaters in 2017. Another commonality is that The Scorch Trials focuses heavily on trust and friendship, as strangers must become allies in their fight to escape an oppressor. So far, the storyline of the series interplays with the notion of human trafficking, but what’s interesting is that in this case, the oppressors truly believe they are not the villains. In fact, a common refrain in both movies so far has been, “WCKD is good,” an obvious nod to the idea that WCKD is attempting to do the right thing. Or rather, the organization is acting for the right reasons (to save the world) even though its methods border on slavery and torture.

While the story of The Maze Runner can be described by a simple and exciting hook (young adults with no memories must work together to escape from a mysterious maze), a satisfactory description of The Scorch Trials takes decidedly more effort. Yes, it’s another tale of escape, but now that both viewers, as well as the main characters, are in the know about the portrayed environment, the tale is far more complex. In The Scorch Trials, viewers learn that there were other mazes, other groups of Gladers who escaped. They learn that the infection that ravaged the world’s population is called The Flare and that the afflicted have become zombie-like creatures called Cranks. They learn that much of the outside world has become an inhospitable desert called The Scorch and that its frequent electrical storms are deadly. The movie features a good deal of exposition, but the fact that the main characters are learning everything right along with the viewer at least makes this exposition more palatable. Now add secret WCKD operatives into the mix—and the introduction of a whole host of other human enemies and allies, all of whom have different motives for capturing or befriending Thomas and his friends—and The Scorch Trials suddenly takes on the tropes of action, conspiracy, dystopia, and the classic zombie flick all at once.

Occasionally the film appears to lack direction, but viewers should hang in there. Much like its predecessor, The Scorch Trials features a talented cast led by 24-year-old Dylan O’Brien as Thomas. The young actors in this ensemble portray a de facto family with great sincerity—suspicious of letting newcomers into the fold, devastated when one of their own betrays them. Their chemistry is especially palpable after the loss of a new friend when they fondly remember those who died trying to get out of the maze. As well, Breaking Bad fans will be delighted to learn that Giancarlo Esposito goes along for the ride in a fantastic role that seems small at first, but then the character keeps coming back for more.

The Maze Runner consists almost exclusively of young adults and teenagers, but the setting of The Scorch Trials (outside the maze) necessitates a much larger adult presence from beginning to end. This, along with the mere fact that the main characters are not walled in the entire time, makes the second movie feel quite different, almost as if the series has lost its original magic. On the other hand, it’s clear that the scope of the saga is broadening, and characters are maturing.

With minimal box office losses compared to The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials is holding its own monetarily, and the studio has announced that it’s happy with the numbers. Moreover, the quality of the second film is about on par with the original, and with double the budget, it serves up an even larger collection of spectacular effects on top of its expanded cast. The finale, titled The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, is already set for 2017. For now, go see The Scorch Trials in theaters, at least as a matinee—because you definitely don’t want to have to see this on a measly forty-seven inch screen later.


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