MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS
*1/2 (out of 5)
September 18, 2015
Dylan O’Brien as THOMAS
Ki Hong Lee as MINHO
Kaya Scodelario as TERESA
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as NEWT
Dexter Darden as FRYPAN
Alexander Flores as WINSTON
Jacob Lofland as ARIS JONES
Rosa Salazar as BRENDA
Giancarlo Esposito as JORGE
Patricia Clarkson as AVA PAIGE
Aidan Gillen as JANSON
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Wes Ball
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I remember about ten years ago after the “Lord of the Rings” series had wrapped up to critical and audience acclaim, it was clear that the “Harry Potter” franchise was going to eventually end. These movies were significant beyond the pocketbook of Warner Bros. because they had changed the way franchise movies were made. Long before Marvel threw its hat in the ring, “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” showed that it was possible to produce blockbusters in a pipeline so you could have a new one open every year.
As the “Harry Potter” franchise was wrapping up, Hollywood was frantically searching for the next media break-out hit. After a rash of failed attempts (including “Eragon,” “The Golden Compass,” “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” “City of Ember” and even the moderately successful “Percy Jackson” movie), they stumbled upon “Twilight.” Then came “The Hunger Games.”
Hollywood has been trying to catch this lightning in a bottle again, and while the “Divergent” series and last year’s “The Maze Runner” showed promise, they are hardly the billion-dollar hits that the tent poles have been.
Like the odious and convoluted “Insurgent,” “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” proves that wanting a great franchise does not necessarily translate into getting one.
In this second film, the kids are out of the maze. Why were they in there in the first place is never fully explained, and in fact it goes against the reasons for everything happening in this movie. But we won’t worry about that. Because teens can save the world. Duh.
The kids find themselves in the WCKD compound (probably one of the most trite shadow organization names I’ve seen in movies since K.O.A.S., but that one was a joke). There, they are being kept with little explanation, and soon Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) discovers they are being used for experiments… or something that involves nasty-looking tubes draining their precious bodily fluids. So the kids orchestrate an escape and head into the desolate wasteland of what’s left of Earth to find salvation.
The first half of the movie isn’t terrible, but that’s because the purpose of the beginning of a movie is to lead on to some mystery with unanswered questions. Like the first film, the script struggles to explicitly not answer these questions to a ludicrous degree. (Seriously, there’s one scene where Thomas asks someone a direct question, and she just shrugs and tells him to get in the car.) The movie manages to swerve into a pretty cool zombie apocalypse moment with the victims of the Flare virus, and while it does little to serve the story, it gives audiences a brief action moment with some pretty neat scares.
However, when the movie gets back to its roots, which is the characters, it collapses again into dumbed-down science fiction with godawful dialogue and nonsensical plot points. Eventually the movie devolves into this rag-tag team of unique kids that WCKD is trying to enslave as a resource but is totally okay with killing using cluster bombs.
Which leads to the greater question of why the kids were put in the maze in the first place? Because if their blood is so precious, why shuffle them into an arena where they are A) untapped as a resource and B) left to die fighting mutants?
Doesn’t matter because EXPLOSION!
This is the logical thinking behind “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.” No one actually explains their backstory to the others, even if they have literally days of walking during which they could talk about it. No one answers the simplest of questions when they meet up. No one actually tries to figure out what is going on behind the scenes.
This dumbed-down science fiction writing may work for pre-teens reading a book in the school library, but it hardly cuts it in a somewhat sophisticated grown up world of cinema. The movie panders to teens with them being the saviors of the world, but it never really lays out that plan. It just provides that context with a lot of shrugs and characters refusing to talk to each other.
Maybe if you smack yourself in the face with a wet trout every five minutes, knocking loose your logical thought, the movie might work. However, as a consistent piece of science fiction, “The Scorch Trials” burns away fast.