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New Release Review - MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS

Second installment in the post-apocalyptic YA series.

Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Wes Ball

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper




"Scorch Trials is largely a chore to watch. It remains as tepid and incomprehensible as the first film, lacking the acting power or writing muscle to elevate its well-worn story."




The YA novel adaption genre is finally nearing the end. While it arguably peaked last year (with the debut of two successful franchises and the third Hunger Games film), the teenage-aiming genre is on its last legs. With the last Hunger Games film releasing later this year, and the final installments in Divergent and The Maze Runner releasing in 2016 and 2017 respectively, the genre is beginning to dissolve. And frankly, it's about time. The Hunger Games fizzled out after its first two films and the reception of the Divergent films has been mixed at best. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials - the second film in a series of three based off the popular (?) James Dashner books - remains as tepid and incomprehensible as the first film, lacking the acting power or writing muscle to elevate its well-worn story.
Following a brief flashback that's truly more compelling than anything in the previous film, we're dropped right where we left off. After fleeing the maze at the end of the previous movie, Thomas and his friends from the glade soon realize that they may not have made much of an escape. Their new "home" is in a facility run by a mysterious man named Mr. Janson, but suspicious events inspire another daring escape by the boys and Teresa. They manage to get away, but become lost in the vast surrounding desert, known as the Scorch.
It's not a spoiler to say (if you've seen the trailer) that there are zombies involved in the story this time around. And while they only really occupy two action/chase scenes, they are among the most entertaining portions of the film. The zombie sequences have a sense of energy and fun that was sorely lacking in the film's predecessor (and for that matter, most of Scorch Trials as well). This material isn't particularly original (or even memorable), but it stands out among the bland, predictable events that surround the rest of the film.
Scorch Trials is largely a chore to watch. It's 132 minutes long and doesn't feel any shorter. The film is simply unengaging. It has a been-there-done-that feel that plagued the first film and hurts this one as well. The nature of Scorch Trials is highly repetitive as the characters move from one clan of survivors to another, each location a little more boring than the last.
Where the film really suffers, however, is its utter lack of character intrigue. Perhaps one or two of the dozen or so characters onscreen have a discernible personality. Largely, they're a bland lot, especially the main characters. One tends to associate the characters by their race (truthfully, the only defining features of characters like Minho, Frypan, or Winston), or by the cliche personality they would have if the film put in even an ounce of effort, i.e. Newt as a wisecracking sidekick, Teresa as the...girl?, and Thomas as the bland-as-dust leading man. Well, I suppose they fulfilled two of them.
The lack of interesting characters makes the drama as uninvolving as imaginable. Character-oriented tragedies, revelations and plot twists have little to no effect since we never really knew, cared for, or understood them to begin with. The antagonists are painted as so obviously sinister, it's hard to swallow when they insist they're doing what they believe to be best (especially when their organization is literally called WICKED - big capital letters and all).  
The cast does what they can with impossibly boring characters (and they're admittedly more successful this time around). Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores and Jacob Lofland make up the glade crew (plus one), and they are completely unremarkable. The supporting adult cast try but mostly fail to breathe life into lifeless characters. Aidan Gillen and Giancarlo Esposito are such examples. The only memorable performance (and possibly the only memorable part of the whole film) is Alan Tudyk's contribution in a minor role occupying only a couple scenes. He's funny, creepy, and over-the-top, making him a complete delight to watch, an effective contrast to the otherwise mundane surroundings.
Director Wes Ball and screenwriter T.S. Nowlin are unable to inject any real smarts or personality into this snooze of a franchise. Plot holes and character oversights abound in a messy and nonsensical story. While it is arguably an improvement over its predecessor (with the addition of Zombies and Tudyk at least temporarily providing the film with a pulse), it's still every bit a pointless exercise in targeting an easy-to-please audience, while honing in on almost all of the genre cliches. It's a trial all right.




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