Friday, September 18, 2015

The Scorch Trials

The sequel to The Maze Runner swaps out a complicated maze for an equally ill-defined desert landscape full of zombies for our surviving heroes to navigate. During a brief rest in a military complex obviously run by the same organization which experimented on them in the maze, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his friends meet a group of kids from other mazes and begin to uncover the truth about why they are so important to WICKED.

While the others are content to be kept prisoner in a safe place with three square meals a day and their own cot, Thomas befriends a boy from another group (Jacob Lofland), and, after discovering the truth about the continued experimentation, helps his friends escape into the barren wastleand outside the facility known as "the Scorch."

In the same way that The Maze Runner declined to explain how putting kids in a death maze helped make them more valuable to WICKED, screenwriter T.S. Nowlin glosses over how a zombie virus is responsible for turning a major American city into the middle of the Sahara desert.

Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, and Alexander Flores all return with O'Brien for the sequel as the surving characters from the first film. Along with Aris (Lofland), The Scorch Trials introduces several new characters to the franchise (none any less bland than the returning group). These include the leader of a local gang (Giancarlo Esposito) and his adopted daughter (Rosa Salazar), Firefly's Alan Tudyk as an information broker of sorts, Aidan Gillen as the head of the facility where the characters are briefly kept, and several new faces as part of the rebellious Right Arm who are working to save children from WICKED's experiments.

Partially because the sci-fi concepts it introduces make little to no sense and partially because of the introduction of zombies, the Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials leads the franchise down a path further from science fiction to become even more of a horror-thriller this time around. The pacing and action reflect this continued shift. Although competently done there's noting that makes it stand out from any other B-movie zombie thriller in which you've seen the exact same sequences. By far the most interesting character in the first film was the maze itself, which of course doesn't make an appearance here. Instead were given a scene after scene of the characters navigating a dystopian landscape with little incentive to care whether or not any of them actually survive.

I never bought into Thomas and his story as the first film failed to win me over to their cause or care about who made it out of the maze alive. The characters (i.e. interchangeable walking plot devices) are neither more sympathetic nor interesting a second time around. Fans of the first film are likely to be kinder on the film than I am as we're given much of the same without much care for logic, plot, or actual character development.

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