Wes Ball’s The Scorch Trials picks up right where its predecessor, last year’s The Maze Runner, left off. The gang of plucky teenagers, led by protagonist Thomas, have escaped the eponymous monster-filled maze and ushered into a stronghold where they are assured that they have finally reached safety. Or have they?
Not to spoil it for you, but no, they have not reached it just yet. (This is only the second film in the planned trilogy, after all.)
I have to confess, I did not care for the first film in the Maze Runner saga, but confusion over its abrupt ending and some vague hope that the sequel would redeem it somewhat led to me dragging a friend to the cinema for two hours of what has to be one of the most boring films I have ever watched.
In The Maze Runner, we learnt that most of humanity has been wiped out by ‘the Flare,’ a virus caused by a massive solar flare, which has somehow infected the brains of most of the world’s population and turned them into zombie-like creatures known as ‘Cranks’. So far, so nonsensical. Thomas and friends are ‘Immunes,’ meaning, you guessed it, they are immune to solar flare related viruses. Evil corporation WCKD (named for the World Catastrophe Killzone Department, not the blue alcopop favoured by underage drinkers) have come to the conclusion that in order to extract the cure from the Immunes, they must first be dumped in a deadly maze for a few years before their brain juices can be harvested. Surely a few vials of blood would have been a lot more helpful? Unfortunately, the answer to why WCKD enjoy needlessly torturing minors was not answered in The Scorch Trials.
It is not all bad: the Cranks are a particularly scary breed of fast zombies, and there is one genuinely unnerving encounter in an underground tunnel, which features a lair of Cranks that are growing into the walls, becoming one with the weeds and the mould in a surprisingly good bit of body horror. Unfortunately, we never really find out why this is happening to the Cranks, as after an arbitrary chase scene, the zombies are never spoken of again. They are eschewed in favour of a tacked on romantic subplot between the two leads, Thomas and Brenda, who recite most of their dialogue as if they are reading it directly from the script while watching a particularly interesting wall of paint dry.
Although much of the cast is made of relative newcomers, there are some bigger (and slightly better) names amongst them. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the cute kid from Love Actually), Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring) are among the bigger names in the film, although Esposito definitely seems to be phoning it in. Then there is my personal favourite cameo, Alan Tudyk (aka Wash from Firefly!) as the drug addled Marcus. Out of the entire cast, Tudyk seems to be the only one who is actually enjoying himself, and his two minutes of screen-time are probably the best in the entire movie.
The Scorch Trials could have made for an interesting film if it had focused a little more on world building, and a little less on its cast of angsty teens.
Unfortunately, it did not. Do not make the same mistake I did. Go see something else instead.