*Potential Spoilers: Be Warned*
Firstly, for any of you who are huge fans of the book, fair warning- the second installment of the Maze Runner series, The Scorch Trials, takes a very, very, very loose interpretation of its original material.
It is fair to say that The Scorch Trials has upped its game from its prequel The Maze Runner (2014)– more characters, more conflict, more action. Unfortunately, it failed to up my enjoyment of the series, leaving me with more questions than answers and more confusion than entertainment.
When last we left our heroes Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and two or three other characters whose names we’ve already forgotten (and who the movie spends little to no time reminding us of), they had just escaped the Maze and were rescued by people who claimed not to be the guys who put these kids in the Maze in the first place, W.C.K.D. (though the audience already knows they’re lying). Hero and company are taken to a “way house” to meet with other kids who have survived their own Maze Trials and then perhaps move on to someplace more safe.
The first character they meet is Janson, played by Game of Thrones alum Aidan Gillen. For anyone who watches the show or reads the book and knows of Littlefinger, you know immediately you can’t trust this guy, and it’s almost like the director was banking on that. Janson takes everyone for testing then immediately gets the suspicion ball rolling by taking groups of survivors away to “make them safe”. Though when Thomas and new friend Aris (Jacob Lofland) find the supposed “trustworthy” characters rolling out carts of bodies, it’s pretty clear that the group never left W.C.K.D. Honestly I feel like that name is a little on-the-nose…it’s like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (“I feel like someone really wanted our initials to spell “shield”).
The group escapes this testing ground into the dystopian world we were all waiting for, what I’m assuming used to be San Francisco covered in sand and burning heat. This is when the film gets a little Silent Hill (1999) on us and starts moving our characters from location to location, each one teaching them a little more, and yet somehow a little less. In the abandoned mall, they first meet what are called Cranks, though the movie leaves it up to the viewers to read the books to know what they are (Zombies? Plague victims? Crazy people?). In the Hooverville-like factory we are introduced to two MORE characters of note, Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancario Esposito) and given an introduction to the rebels of this series, The Right Arm. Move on to the actual destroyed city (though they spend literally no time there, at least no time that really means anything) before finding the rebels in the hills before the big finale (you meet several more characters, but honestly at this point it’s all you can do to keep everyone’s names straight).
Remember all these guys who were left after the last movie? No? Don’t worry, you’re losing a few of them and the main characters won’t really notice it either.
One problem with this film is that all the characters you loved from the last film (other than Thomas, obviously) are shifted to the side to make way for the new characters, who are less engaging and less fun. Granted, as the second film in a dystopian trilogy, we know that it’s time for things to start getting a bit more serious, but the film actually starts off with these kids being so adorably bad that you can’t help but laugh (Newt’s role in this film is basically limited to pointing out everything they’re doing is stupid, even if they do it anyway, and you have to laugh at the fact that at least one of them realizes it). Then almost all of the main group are basically given ridiculous one-liners, weak exposition and basic confusion (just like us) until the very end.
The problem is that even though the movie diverges from the book, it still plays out as though it expects the audience to know what is happening, so even if you haven’t read the book, you still are left wondering what is happening, and your friends who have read the series can’t really explain it to you because they’re just as confused as you are. The movie throws out words from the books like “Crank” and “WCKD” and “Flare” without really explaining them, and they give us blurry flashbacks to try and provide a backstory but do very little to explain it to the viewers, even when it’s something we should probably know to understand the story they are trying to tell.
The film does pay attention to detail, which is appreciated- like in The Maze Runner (2014), they pay attention to the look of their actors. Teresa in particular is nice to see, because as a girl, I can tell you that most Dystopian movies have this weird idea that girls can keep their hair perfectly combed, even running around in extreme weather conditions and generally avoiding death (until they cut it short for some symbolic meaning, but we’ll ignore that for now). Teresa’s hair looks like a rat’s nest, and it’s strangely satisfying. The boys definitely look like they’ve been through the mill too, so it’s easy to believe they’re fighting for their lives all the time.
And even though they don’t really explain them well, the Cranks are wonderfully scary. The first one you see (a little girl, Walking Dead much?) actually has her eyes gouged out, which provides for a very graphic scare, and the rest of them movie like Silent Hill (1999) nurses and make a very disturbing gasping-cackling-noise. Between Cranks and Grievers, a part of me is wondering why they didn’t run with making this overdone dystopian idea into a horror movie.
Other than these few small things, it was a lot of confusion from the characters and confusion from the audience (honestly there was a scene where characters got drunk and I’m still trying to figure out what the point even was), but I suppose this is a means to an end- we still have one movie to go. Unless of course the series goes the same way as most other teen fiction series nowadays, in which case we have two more movies coming. It’s not that I hated the movie, it’s that they took what I liked from it’s prequel and didn’t give me anything to like about this one. I was invested, but not entertained.
Will I see the next movie? Sure, if for no other reason than I want to know what the heck is going on.