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'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials' Review: Oh, It's a F*cking Trial, All Right

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | September 21, 2015 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | September 21, 2015 |

You guys, I’m pretty sure Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials director Wes Ball has invented some sort of time machine. Or at least a reality distortion mechanism.

How else did he make a 131-minute movie feel like it took up six hours of my everloving life?

Scorch Trials. Ohhhhhh, Scorch Trials. For those not in the know with what the kids are talking about these days, this is the sequel to The Maze Runner, an under-the-radar success when it came out last year. Produced on an estimated budget of $34 million, it earned a smidge over $100 million in domestic box office but then proceeded to clean up overseas and in home video markets. Like Divergent, it’s based on a blatant Hunger Games ripoff/cash grab book series. Unlike Divergent, its cast is made up of mostly unknowns. I know there are lots of people who love The Maze Runner, but I’ve never actually met any of them. I feel old.

Scorch Trials continues the legacy of its predecessor, i.e. being aggressively generic. The set-up, as laid out in the first movie, is that a one-two punch of environmental catastrophe and a highly contagious disease called “the Flare” destroyed the world. Only children/adolescents are immune to the Flare, so Big Brother stand-in WCKD (pronounced “wicked”—subtle) kidnaps a bunch of kids, wipes their memory, and pops them into a deadly maze so they can study their brain chemistry and hopefully figure out how to develop a cure. The end of the first movie sees our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who’s been in the maze all of three days, become Teen Jesus, leading his bros unto salvation. He doesn’t necessarily want to be the “chosen one” whom everyone follows, but he’s just so special and a natural leader and people love him so much, guys! One character plays totally-not-Cato from The Hunger Games, and this little ginger boy is totally-not-Rue. It’s completely original.

The first Maze Runner, for all that it was lazily done in terms of story and characters, at least moved along at a pretty fast clip. By comparison, The Scorch Trials is a goddamned slog. Our heroes have gotten out of the maze only to discover that they’re still in WCKD’s grasp. They then spend the next two-plus hours running around from place to place in search of a resistance organization called the “Right Arm.” That’s it. That’s the whole movie. It’s completely pointless. I tried to think of what scenes I’d cut to remove the dead weight, but the answer is “most of them.” A scene where our heroes have to outrun a lightning storm for no real reason? The PG version of the rave from The Matrix Reloaded? (“Don’t drink alcohol, because you will get drunk and die!”) Even some of the zombie chase scenes, which were the highlight of the movie as far as action is concerned, could have been cut with zero impact on the narrative structure of the film whatsoever.

Oh yeah, there are zombies this time. They can run and climb and would probably be pretty good at parkour. They’re freaky. Some new characters show up, too. Some characters die, but you won’t care, because you either met them five minutes ago or they were given no characterization in the first place.

In fact, there’s little characterization at all. Everything’s Blandy McBlanderson, down to the blue-tinted, desaturated color palette that it’s impossible to get away from these days. Giancarlo Esposito brings a bit of fun as the leader of a refugee camp, and I liked that time Minho (Ki Hong Lee of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) drop-kicked a dude. Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s character is supposed to be the smart one, because he has a British accent, I guess? Thomas is grimdark YA hero to a tee, which sucks, because I used to watch Teen Wolf (back before that was too embarrassing a thing to admit), and I know Dylan O’Brien can be funny.

Scorch could have used some humor, or some characters that didn’t come out of the YA trope handbook, or something. Instead, the most unusual thing about it is how exhausting it is to put oneself through.