Last year’s ‘The Maze Runner’ film had enough things going for it to make it a mildly enjoyable entry into the onslaught of young adult dystopian action/thrillers. For one, it undoubtedly benefited from riding the ground swell of the wildly popular and well-received ‘Hunger Games’ franchise. In addition, it had a genuinely interesting and compelling sci-fi-ish mystery at its core; that being the titular maze itself. Lastly, it was a new movie series, relatively unknown to general audiences outside of the fans of the book series. Unfortunately, with the benefit those elements now starting to fade away, the latest Maze Runner movie, ‘Maze Runner: Scorch Trials’ doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its predecessor.
One reason for this may lie in what seems to be a trend for each successive franchise sequel to move further away from the premise and concepts that were fresh and successful in the original. For instance, we sadly didn’t get any actual Hunger Games competition in the most recent Hunger Games sequel, neither did we (slight spoiler warning) get even a glimpse of a maze in this Maze Runner sequel. That may seem like a nit to pick. However, without the maze in this movie, the remaining narrative conflicts are either confusing, unclear, or simply non-existent. This leaves us with a band of characters who run and stumble from one plot point or action beat into the next without much underlying story. So, one could argue that the complete absence of a maze, the most interesting part of the original and, oh yeah, it’s right there in the title (!), is a bit of a head-scratching disappointment.
So there isn’t a maze. But perhaps this movie’s saving grace is that there’s still plenty of running going on. Right? After all, being a young adult movie, our characters are all (supposed to be) late teens, so sure, let’s have them demonstrate their boundless youthful exuberance by running everywhere for most of the movie…in underground facilities, abandoned shopping malls, sun-parched desert, into drainage spillways, and across girders of abandoned warehouses and cityscapes. There’s certainly plenty of action, which should be exciting, yes? Well, if a gaggle of teens running from various threats is not what you’re looking to get from this movie, then, at over 2 hours, you may be in for one long, dull experience.
But to be fair, even with the central story being weak, the individual action scenes in ‘Maze Runner: Scorch Trials’ are plentiful and well done, propelling the plot forward in thrilling fashion at times. In many of these scenes, the visual effects and cinematography combine to create believably threatening environments for the action to unfold, heightening the sense of isolation and danger. The drawback is that these places as well as certain introduced threats in this movie have the overly-familiar look of those we’ve seen recently in many other post-apocalyptic themed films and TV series.
The fresh-faced and blatantly diverse cast of young up-and-comers from the end of the original ‘Maze Runner’ film is back for this sequel and all are perfectly fine, doing what they can with the thinly written characters. Of this young cast, one face that will be recognized by many viewers is Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen from ‘Game of Thrones’) in the role of Newt. While none of the young main cast stand out, it’s the supporting cast and performances that are the more entertaining ones in this movie. The excellent supporting cast includes Alan Tudyk (Wash from ‘Firefly’) as Blondie, a sleazy, tripped out end-of-the-world party host, and Aiden Gillen (also in ‘Game of Thrones’ as Littlefinger) as the enforcer for the controlling faction, WCKD (yep, pronounced “wicked”). Also making an impact in pivotal supporting roles are Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring from TV’s ‘Breaking Bad’) and Lilly Taylor (‘Six Feet Under’ alum) who turn in splendid performances which elevate the movie for the time that their characters are on screen.
Disappointingly, this sequel ended up not quite fulfilling the expectations set by the first ‘The Maze Runner’ film. But bucking the money-grubbing trend of splitting trilogy-ending movies into two movies (we’re looking at YOU, Hunger Games, Hobbit and Divergent!), we’re left to look toward the SINGLE final installment of this trilogy, ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ in early 2017. And of course, we’re hoping for something much more amazing than we got in this film, sadly.
by Jim Puliafico, Movie Bears Podcast
Enjoy the full Movie Bears Podcast review of ‘Maze Runner: Scorch Trials’ in iTunes, Stitcher, or embedded below: