Friday, September 18, 2015

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

This review is Spoiler-free.

Armed with a bigger budget, a wider scope, and the confidence that comes from a successful first part of a trilogy, Thomas and Friends, guided once again by Wes Ball, brave the real, harsh world beyond the maze. Here, solar flares have scorched the Earth, and there is a terrible virus called the Flare, that turns its victims into angry zombies known as Cranks. Thomas, his friends, and many other kids from other mazes are immune to this virus, and the organization WCKD needs them in order to develop a cure. When Thomas discovers that WCKD is killing kids to manufacture temporary cures out of their blood, and that he and his friends are next, they escape through the scorched desert to find safety. There, they battle with Cranks, not immune survivors, a pursuing WCKD army, and the dreaded middle-chapter syndrome.

They may look scared....

As for the middle-chapter syndrome, The Scorch Trials doesn't go so far as to feel like a stand-alone film -- requiring the first as a setup, and ending in a setup for the final chapter itself -- but absolutely successfully beats the problem by being, quite simply, not boring. And that's putting it mildly. The relentlessly exciting non-stop pace of the first movie is continued here, picking up right where it left off like there wasn't even a whole year break in between the two movies.

With the same director on board, who leaves an incredibly uniquely styled fingerprint on his work, the film's electrically gritty tone, style, and defining quirks all match the first film perfectly -- and good thing too, because plot wise, it could hardly be more different. The horizons have broadened past the manufactured medieval simplicity we had in The Maze, and have turned into, basically, a zombie movie -- with a plot. I was actually taken off guard by how prevalent and legit-zombie-like the Cranks were. They were fast, mean, and very creepy. And the upped thrill-factor of them from the book's Cranks poses some interesting questions for adaptation changes for the third book as well. It's not fundamentally a bad thing -- the improved Cranks are ideal for the tense, thrilling film -- but it does make me wonder... and excited.

"Hanging out" jokes in 3...2...

Though I enjoyed the books thoroughly, I was and am completely open to any changes the movies might offer, and that was a useful mindset to have here. There were so many changes, even down to the basic plot level, that I was occasionally almost as confused watching it as I would have been if I'd never read the books at all. I'll probably have to give it one or two more re-watches before I can decide which way I like better, or if there's really any changes that caused the exclusion of anything I wanted to see, but I'm fairly sure that if I find that I am disappointed in any aspect, the amount of new, fun and exciting additions I liked will balance it all out.

Only one problem bothers me right now: only that I wish there was more character development to be had for the guys. The cast is considerably smaller the time round, but character moments still take a backseat to the action. Dylan O'Brien as the lead is an exception though, since Thomas' character and motivation is definitely important to the story. He is very well characterized and continues to grow impressively, and to make an ideal, engaging, and winning lead for this franchise. As the movie kicks it up a notch (or two), so does he.

Must every picture that includes my three favorite characters also include my least favorite??

I was most underwhelmed to see Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) be slightly left out of the character depth-distributing. Don't get me wrong -- they're still both fantastic, mostly because they are perfectly cast -- but as my favorite characters, I missed moments that would have deepened their characters even more. However they are still deep enough and cool enough to stay favorites, and though I may wish for more, they each had a fair turn in the spotlight. Because of the perfect casting and the talent of the actors, their more under-the-radar development is effortlessly smooth, and headed in expected and promising directions.

Returning also are Winston (Alexander Flores) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) who don't disappoint in any way, and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) who I never liked and still don't, but I do think that the performance has improved a little at least. New kids include Jacob Lofland as Aris, a great addition that I'm looking forward to seeing more of, and Rosa Salazar as Brenda -- finally a girl I do like, and she rocketed up into "main cast" category with ease. And, there are actually adults in this movie! Aidan Gillen with his smirking face and subtle Irish accent makes a great and memorable villain, temporarily overshadowing the main villainess Patricia Clarkson, who's still of course very good.  Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge made himself stand out and be heard, and I enjoyed seeing Alan Tudyk and Barry Pepper make their appearances.

Safe to say that this is my favorite teen-dystopia film series right now.

Two hours and ten minutes of running, and I was never for a moment tired (never mind that I wasn't the one running). It was thrilling and fun from start to finish -- the teen dystopian zombie adventure that the world didn't know it needed until now. In some ways it feels like a traditional story. It certainly used plenty of traditional tried-and-true action/zombie flick gimmicks to great effect. But then, I can't think of any other film it is like -- or even copies from. I said last year that The Maze Runner stands on its own two feet, and separates itself from other YA dystopian stories, but now The Scorch Trials has taken it even further. I'm not even tempted to defend it against the likes of The Hunger Games or Divergent anymore; it really is its own thing; going determinedly in its own direction, and brilliantly not playing by the set rules. And I for one can't wait to see where that independent spirit takes us next.


  1. OMG! I can't wait to see this! You're a Brenda fan? I hated her in the books (way too much drama for me), but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt for the movie.

    I tagged you for 5 Male Characters!

    1. I mean, not "fan" per se, but I like more things about her than I dislike -- like how forward she is. Her character interests me I guess. Teresa annoyed me even before her spoilers for some reason. It's hard to pin exactly why... You like Teresa better? But anyway, the guys are the best characters in these stories I think. :P