MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ has high-functioning middle child syndrome

The odds were never in its favor, simply because of its state as a middle chapter, but it flaunts what it does have well

| September 18, 2015

Before I start, let me issue a warning that the following review will contain spoilers for the previous chapter of this franchise, “The Maze Runner,” so be warned.

Last year, amongst the hustle and bustle of the lead up to the release of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” a movie was released that somewhat went under the radar of most film buffs. “The Maze Runner” was a standout literary adaption that had a style and tone all its own, making it stand out from the pack of current young adult (YA) literature based movies being pedaled to the masses in such grand fashion. Given its thankful box office success, the greenlight was given for the second film to be made in the trilogy (a trilogy which will indeed remain three films, unlike so many other series’). “The Scorch Trials” was a book that built the world outside “The Maze Runner” in an expansive way and while not being as charmingly disarming as the first book was, was an enjoyable experience. My hope, knowing it was a middle chapter film, was the same going into its film adaption “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.”

Here is where the spoilers begin.

After being rescued from the maze by unknown vigilante forces, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of the remaining Gladers are escorted to a high security compound to be kept safe from the evil forces of W.C.K.D. that sought to keep them in the maze. Before long, Thomas realizes he and his friends are all being kept under the watchful eye of W.C.K.D. and must escape to reach The Scorch, a desolate wasteland filled with zombie-like creatures called Cranks, who suffer from a horrible disease called The Flare, for which W.C.K.D. is unethically searching for a cure for.

Following me? If not, don’t worry, the film explains itself far better than I ever could. What you need to know is that yes, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is worth seeing if you enjoyed the first one. Like the book, the film builds on the world nicely in an expansive way, almost to a fault in some areas. Also like the book, I didn’t find this chapter as gleefully engaging as the first installment either, if not simply for an aesthetic change, but also for a tonal one as well. The film takes a much darker twist this time around and forces the audience to feel along with the characters when things don’t go exactly as planned.

The highlight of the first installment was easily the acting, with a nice performance from O’Brien, but an even more effective one from Kaya Scodelario, who plays the mysteriously damaged Teresa, who has a close connection to Thomas, even when their memories can’t connect it. Scodelario is less used in this chapter, if only to build her mystery leading to the third and final chapter of the series, in which I’m sure Scodelario will shine even more, but with what she’s given in this film, again, she shines above the rest. Yet, even with Scodelario, the film brings forth good performances from past players like Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores and Patricia Clarkson, as well as some new (yet familiar) faces like Lili Taylor, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar, Nathalie Emmanuel, Aiden Gillen, Barry Pepper and Alan Tudyk.

“The Scorch Trials” was not a very cinematic book, unlike the first film, deviates from the source material to make it more palatable for the screen, which I appreciated actually. I feel that if the film had followed the book accurately, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, if not only for its anticlimactic nature and sometimes problematic pacing. I think, despite a few missteps, the film moved along nicely, hitting on the base points of the book while also making it much more thrilling to see unfold, without sacrificing any narrative heft. There are fleeting moments of clunkiness in the screenplay, simply with some awkward dialogue, that wasn’t so present in the first film, but for being so brief, isn’t a huge issue.

The biggest issue I got from this film was how I picked up vibes from other films throughout it, from “The Lord of the Rings,” all the way down to “Silent Hill,” there were notes of many different films converging into one film here. This became most apparent in its second act, which lost a lot of steam when the film started focusing on Thomas and Brenda (Salazar) alone. The film slowed down and gave way to show these moments of derivative nature, which was a letdown due to double the amount of scenes during the first and third act that were inherently original, or at least covered with enough interesting story development that you might not notice it as heavily.

Make no mistake though, even in the slower second act, director Wes Ball has created a beautiful world with the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin. The visual effects are beautiful and detailed, the action sequences are nicely choreographed and the cinematography is glossy, consistent, bright and straightforward. It makes me want to see the 3D version which will be released in international territories, simply because it was a stable enough image that it could totally sustain a 3D conversion, but even in its native 2D glory, which you’ll have to settle for stateside, it’s a wonder enough.

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” might not be similar to its source material, it might not be as good as the previous installment and the film ends one scene after it should’ve, but what’s here is something to be appreciated. It’s nice to see a serious filmmaker taking a movie pointed at a teenage audience and not dumbing it down, making it perfectly accessible for a more refined audience to enjoy it. Of course the film won’t end up on anyone’s “Best of 2015” lists, but building from what has been created with the direction, acting, world building and lead up to the final act of this trilogy, “high functioning middle child syndrome” is in no way an insult in this case.

3.5/5

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Directed by: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Alexander Flores, Aiden Gillen, Ki Hong Lee, Jacob Lofland, Barry Pepper, Rosa Salazar, Lili Taylor, Alan Tudyk and Patricia Clarkson.
Runtime: 131 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language.
Available in premium large format screens.

Twentieth Century Fox presents, a Gotham Group/Temple Hill production, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman

Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he’ll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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