The survivors of WICKED’s maze escape into the desert wasteland, where they meet new challenges and horrors.
Wes Ball, 2015
After seemingly being rescued from the eponymous maze at the end of the first film, our motley crew of some dudes whose names we know, a couple of dudes whose names we don’t remember, and that one girl encounter the dangerous outside world for all of five seconds before being taken into a mysterious facility. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) struggles to get some information from their mysterious “saviour” Janson (Aiden Gillen), but suspicious circumstances soon see him and his friends old and new escaping once more. They run off into the Scorch, the destroyed landscape that was once San Francisco, which is fraught with dangers and some new characters who really reinvigorate the group. As Thomas learns more about WCKD, the mysterious organisation that experimented on them in the maze, he begins to wonder about his past self – you know, before he lost his memory – and whether his actions are for good or ill. Also he really loves Minho (Ki Hong Lee) because, frankly, who wouldn’t, and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is the worst.
So the first film in this series, one of the rare male-led dystopian YA stories, was kind of a dull affair. There were some really nice, likeable characters, and some good visuals, but the idea is kind of silly. It’s still kind of silly, but aside from the bookends, I enjoyed this movie more than its predecessor. This is mostly due to the awesome desert-set horror-action movie it becomes with the introduction of the always brilliant Giancarlo Esposito and super cool Rosa Salazar as scrappy opportunists with a sweet relationship and good taste in dystopian couture. Salazar’s Brenda has terrific chemistry with Thomas, giving the film a much-needed lift after his constant mooning over the drippy Teresa. Teresa’s worstness is not due to poor Kaya Scodelario, who does her best, but rather her being the WORST WRITTEN CHARACTER EVER. She is always the one to stop the action and get a bunch of people killed, and it’s so frustrating when she’s surrounded by likeable boys. Brenda abates some of that sexism. There’s a whole section where Brenda and Thomas escape from the terrors of the Scorch that is a dizzying, heart-pounding, and genuinely scary affair because, unlike Thomas, Brenda is vulnerable to the writer’s whims. Some very cool creature effects and nice cinematography keep the fear factor high, which is good because the film is a pretty episodic, predictable affair otherwise.
There is still a fundamental flaw in the overarching plot of these movies. The essential struggle is meant to be between whether we should try to help each individual person or work towards the greater good. However, all the people on one side of his debate are good guys and heroes, while all the people on the other side are bad guys who shoot perfectly nice innocent people and, you know, Actual Worst Teresa. There’s nothing about Aiden Gillen that you don’t distrust the moment he appears on screen, which makes the whole early section dull and predictable. There are some creepy situations going on there that aren’t capitalised on because they don’t happen to anyone we care about. Then we get to the end and it gets even sillier. They did at least make us care by hurting the one person everybody loves the most, though, so that’s something. The guys still work well together when they are together, and there’s a genuine sense of camaraderie there. Dylan O’Brien is so goddamned watchable in the lead. I know they were going younger for the new Spider-man casting, but man, if they weren’t going Miles Morales I wish they’d picked Dylan instead. He’d get to mix Thomas’s physicality with his quick witted, expressive humour, which he never gets to show in Scorch Trials. He DOES get a moment of sadness that is genuinely heartbreaking. I’ll see the third one and hope he really gets to cut loose, because I thought Scorch Trials was pretty enjoyable overall.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials on IMDb