In a market full of films adapted from dystopian, post-apocalyptic-themed literature, Wes Ball’s The Maze Runner (2014) is remarkable in its being utterly generic. It took all the essential elements of the genre, from the teenagers coping with physical, mental and emotional torture to the ruthless adults who cannot simply understand their plight, and simply held on from start to finish.
That worked, at least for a single film. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials expands the scope of the first film, throwing the surviving kids out into the open where they meet their torturers, most of which are scientists and their lackeys under the very wicked group called WCKD, and basically do the same stunts they have been trained to do inside the titular maze. (READ: ‘The Maze Runner’ Review: Falling at the finish line)
As expected, repetitiveness becomes a problem. The chases and fights, all of which serve the purpose of making the long hauls of expositions more tolerable, are no longer as exciting as they could have been had they been staged the first time around. Essentially, the franchise required a fresher perspective, something Ball, despite all his earnestness, could not provide.
The Scorch Trials starts exactly where The Maze Runner ends. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his crew have just escaped from the maze that turned out to be some sort of elaborate test. They are rescued by Janson (Aidan Gillen), a suspiciously accommodating man who brings them to an installation where they are kept comfortable before being transported to a promised safe haven.
Of course, as with all literature of the same vein, things are not as what they seem. There is no safe haven. The rest of the world is actually a wasteland where most of the remnants of humanity are either infected with a virus that turns them into rampaging zombies out for blood or desperate to capture Thomas and his ilk for the precious cure they carry with them in their bodies.
So the Scorch Trials is basically just a story of how these teenagers jumped from the frying pan and into the fire. The obstacles remain the same, except that they are bigger, more ornate, and grounded with a semblance of familiarity that is supposed to be disconcerting but is really just more of the same.
The cluelessness of the heroes that shrouded the adventures of the first film with a little bit of mystery is now a liability. Now that the audience is introduced to the vastness of the world outside the maze, Ball opts to dish out the details in small chunks and pieces and through convenient revelations that only manage to deter the film from being the exhilarating thrill ride that it should have been.
Lacking the essential context of why things are happening to them and the world in general, the story becomes devoid of emotion and urgency. Ball relies too heavily on the characters that are also in a way, just vessels of teenage confusion. The film is stuck in a quagmire. It hasn’t evolved. It is a true sequel, a film that cannot exist on its own terms, with nothing new to offer except more of the same characters and a needless extension of a tale that has gotten old.
The Scorch Trials is middling. It indulges in leaving its audience in the dark, alongside its band of characters that are now annoying in how they revel in their boring ignorance of what’s happening in the world. Its blend of teenage angst and the standard elements of the various genres the film apes no longer works as consistently as they should.
The film has shining moments. However, the action sequences that offer surprising thrills do not remove the fact that everything else is a drag. At this point, Ball should have already graduated from introducing the mythos of The Maze Runner. Sadly, he’s as stuck as his characters. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios.