Out of the Maze and Into the Scorch

Director: WES BALL/2015

With The Hunger Games finishing up their cinematic run in November, and with Divergent/Insurgent largely being a bit of a snoozefest (the best entry in that series was about a girl trying to open a box for 2 hours), The Maze Runner is seeking to set itself apart in the young adult fiction genre.  Yes, it is another teen dystopian picture with a sinister control structure manipulating events in the lives of our protagonists, but we have 3-4 movies to figure out “what’s really going on”!

The Maze Runner introduced us to Thomas, a young man who doesn’t know who he is but one day is going up an elevator into the middle of a glade that is surrounded by a giant maze.  Other boys make their home there and take turns each day scouting out the maze which turns deadly at night.  A series of conflicts amongst the inhabitants of this glade (they call themselves ‘Gladers’), the arrival of the first girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and Thomas leading a group of teens through the Maze into a control room he worked at, helping to conduct the grand experiment they found themselves in are a few of the highlights. Eventually, they are rescued by a group claiming to be fighting the agency behind the Maze and these experiments.  The organization is called WCKD (pronounced ‘Wicked’), and apparently they are behind it all….whatever it is, that has caused humanity to die off with the survivors desperately looking for a cure. They have discovered “what’s really going on” only to find that the rabbit hole is much deeper than the Maze.

This is where The Maze Runner left off, and right where Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials begins.  Arriving at a compound in the desert, the maze survivors are rushed off of the helicopter as a horde of what can only be compared to Zombies, descends upon them.  Having safely locked the gates, they find themselves in this facility where things are not as good as they seem to be.

The rest of the film involves the ‘gladers’ trying to discover “what’s really going on” again as they enter desolate cities, desert wastelands, and even mountainous regions looking for “the right hand” a group of rebels fighting against WCKD and whatever they have done to humanity.

This entry is much stronger than the first in terms of story development and action.  At a very long 131 minute run time, there are moments where you really feel it.  At other times, the action and pacing keeps things moving at a breakneck pace. The supporting cast of Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Aidan Gillen, and Patricia Clarkson are strong as well.

Without going into spoilers, The Scorch Trials has an odd predicament that it has gotten itself into as it sets up the next entry in the series.  The predicament is trying to define what genre this film truly is.  If you have read the books that this series is based upon, by author James Dashner, you’ll have a good idea where all of this is headed.  For those of us who did not read the books, we have to discover this world one frame at a time.  The only way I can describe the genres is through comparisons, and they are comparisons that will not be a great fit across the board, but here it goes.

On one hand, The Hunger Games and Divergent/Insurgent are no brainers as each of these film properties are based on popular young adult fiction books and contain a teenage hero/heroine who is seeking to use their skills/gifts to bring down the corrupted leadership of their respective worlds.  Insurgent and The Scorch Trials,  also both have Rosa Salazar! On the other hand, The Scorch Trials, finds itself with a couple of early scenes that made me think of The Matrix (without the philosophy and stylistic fight scenes….but more regarding the reason for the Matrix itself), meets Aliens with a corporate interest behind everything.  There were moments of World War Z meets Zombieland meetsI am Legend meets Warm Bodies. And finally, there was a bit of Book of Eli meets Firefly, in one of the strangest mashup comparisons yet.  And I can’t really go into the “why” without giving away too much.  So when you watch it, look for yourself and see what you think.

So, based on the story building and action, I’ll say that this film has more of a leg to stand on as a set-up piece to the upcoming 3rd installment than say Insurgent does.  It does bend genres way too much, but on the whole, director Wes Ball makes it all work and sets up everything with a small appearance by Patricia Clarkson (Learning to Drive) that is much like her appearance in The Maze Runner, leading us to once again have to wait to find out “what’s really going on!”