Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)
If you’re wondering what happened to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and the rest of the gang when they escaped from the Glade, then you’re ready for The Scorch Trials, the next installment in the Maze Runner trilogy. In this adaptation of the second installment of the popular young adult dystopian series, the group of teens face new challenges in the outside world, known as the Scorch.
The Scorch Trials picks up right where Maze Runner left off. The former residents of the Glade are hurried out of a helicopter as soldiers shoot down zombie-like creatures referred to as Cranks. Before they know it, they’re being processed into a facility run by a man named Janson (Aidan Gillen), who promises to keep them safe. The teens are assured that they’ll soon be sent to a secure, idyllic location, but Thomas instantly gets an eerie feeling about the facility, especially after Teresa disappears within moments of the group arriving.
Thomas isn’t the only one who has suspicions about the place. A refugee from a different Glade named Aris (Jacob Lofland) decides to show Thomas the truth about where they’re really going. They sneak into a room with teens hooked up to a variety of machines, where they overhear Janson on a video call with the not-so-dead Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), head of the World in Catastrophe Killzone Department, or WCKD (pronounced “Wicked”) for short, the same evil organization that put the teens in the Glade in the first place.
Horrified to learn they’re still being held captive by WCKD, Thomas returns to inform his group that they need to leave, just in time for them to be attacked by soldiers. The group manages to free themselves, locate Teresa, and force their way outside into the Scorch.
But the Scorch poses a whole new set of problems. Apart from being desert terrain with no hope of finding food or water, the group realizes the landscape is rife with a wide assortment of Cranks. One guy in their group named Winston (Alexander Flores) is attacked and starts to show signs of becoming a Crank, even though they were previously told they were immune to the zombie-like virus. They’re forced to abandon Winston, leaving behind a gun so he can end his suffering and avoid his gruesome fate.
Eventually, the group decides to head for the mountains in search of a resistance group called the Right Arm that they believe to be fighting against WCKD. Instead, they come across a camp led by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), who decides to take the group captive and hang them all upside down so he can sell them out to WCKD. But before he has a chance to follow through on this plan, the building is attacked by soldiers. Jorge and the rest of the Gladers manage to escape, but Thomas stays behind to save Jorge’s adopted daughter Brenda (Rosa Salazar).
The two are forced to escape through a series of tunnels that are full of Cranks. Naturally, they get attacked, and Brenda is scratched. She shrugs off the injury and leads Thomas to a town where they try to find the rest of the group, but instead end up at a party/rave where a man named Marcus (Alan Tudyk) forces them to drink some sort of hallucinogen. Now heavily under the influence, Thomas and Brenda start making out, but Thomas stops when he realizes it’s Teresa that he loves.
Thomas blacks out for a while, and when he comes to, he’s back with his group and they’re all headed to meet the Right Arm. After getting shot at by snipers, they’re allowed into the camp where they meet the group’s leader, a doctor named Mary (Lili Taylor) who’s able to use Thomas’ blood to cure Brenda. It turns out Mary already knows Thomas and all about his past, hinting that he was once a traitor to WCKD before they wiped out his memories.
Thomas barely has time to process this before Teresa admits to betraying everybody, and contacting WCKD and revealing their location. The camp is swarmed by WCKD soldiers, who kill Mary and take Minho hostage. Thomas won’t allow his friends to be sent back to the tortuous WCKD research centers, and the movie ends with him vowing to go after them, with the support of his fellow Gladers and his newfound allies.
If you were a fan of Maze Runner, then there’s good news for you, because Scorch Trials actually takes the story up a notch, albeit a very tiny notch. As mentioned, the film picks up where the previous film left off, which looks a little odd, considering some of the Gladers have noticeably aged since then, but it’s something that can be easily ignored. All in all, the story was a bit better, the action sequences were more engaging, and the addition of several characters who haven’t spent years trying to figure out a maze actually helped make things more entertaining. Not to mention, these characters bring a little hope for the next film in the series, The Death Cure, which is scheduled for 2017.
Of course, if you weren’t a fan of the first movie and thought maybe the second time would be the charm, then you might want to avoid this film altogether. The movie has the same flaws as the first, and the only reason the storyline improves is because they’re not trapped in one location for nearly the entire film. The writers try to drop hints to build up the mystery, but in the end, the deepest question is whether or not what the Gladers experience this time around is yet another test.
The scenery of Scorch Trials obviously has changed a lot from Maze Runner, as now the audience is looking at a desert with buried cities, which, cinematographically speaking, is rather pleasing. However, before long, the film falls into the same generic slump as the first, until you feel like you’re watching a low-grade spinoff of The Walking Dead. Zombies appear, people run. Someone gets scratched, people run some more. The writers never really explain how a virus could cause an entire city to be buried in sand, nor do they hint at what caused the virus. Answers to follow in movie #3, maybe?
The film also tries to drop some clues about the characters’ pasts. We find out that Thomas was given to WCKD by his mother, and that he later betrays the organization, which is why he ended up in the Glade. We also learn that Teresa is a slightly deranged backstabber because she may or may not have had fake memories installed/implanted by WCKD. Either way, she’s still the same two-dimensional character from the first film.
With the abrupt ending of the first film, most had hoped the second entry would provide all the answers we never got. Instead, the previous film now makes even less sense. In Scorch Trials, we’re told the Gladers have an enzyme in their blood that can be used to cure the zombie virus. And WCKD wants to drain the blood of immune young people to save the older generation. So why would WCKD then take all these kids with their lifesaving bodily fluids and drop them off to fend for themselves in a maze filled with killer robots? Online summaries of the source novel suggest a more complex disease was thrown out in favor of a generic zombie virus, as if we haven’t gotten enough zombie-related movies and shows over the past 15+ years.
In the end, the film seems to be a combination of whatever types of stories are currently popular with tweens or early teens. Dystopia? Zombies? Drugged-out raves? It’s all in here. The substance is lacking, and Scorch Trials probably won’t leave you with much to ponder afterwards. Of course, it seems a large part of the film is devoted to preparing audiences for the final movie in the trilogy, which might actually deliver something worth watching. But then again, you may just want to buy the books.