Maze Runner was amazing. (at least to me). So how did its little sequel fare?
20th Century Fox knew that there was something special in Maze Runner, and their gamble paid off when the $34 million film took in $345.5 million worldwide, with its domestic opening weekend alone coming real close to its budget ($32.5 million). Fox decided to up their ante, retaining the cast and crew of the original, and raising the budget boldly to $61 million, knowing that it won’t kill them financially, in their bid to attract more moviegoers. The budget definitely shows- Maze Runner’s setting was mainly confined in a maze, where its rendering throughout mainly stayed consistent, and there wasn’t really much setting to work with. Meanwhile, what we have here with The Scorch Trials is massive- massive, post-apocalyptic sceneries, and a vast world to explore. For those expecting a visual treat in a blockbuster-dry month like September, you get it here, and there’s plenty of actions sequences scattered throughout the film too. If your the average popcorn-movie lover who goes in for the action sequences, and not for the story or sophistication, there you have it- your next film to indulge your cash and time on.
Onwards to the action. While Maze Runner spent more time on world-building and establishment, and is packed full of tension, what we have here is a far more action-packed sequel, with guns loading, without any of the character development and story that critics like me are looking towards. Don’t take me wrongly- The Scorch Trials is definitely entertainment worthy of a ticket price admission, but don’t go in looking for anything but a pretty generic film. One aspect where Maze Runner excelled in would be its originality- what other films in the past decade have focused on a bunch of kids escaping a maze?, and effectively made the escape a thrill ride, one which we would invest our emotions in towards the characters. Meanwhile, what we have in Scorch Trials is merely a bunch of kids/teens, and later on adults, running away from zombie like creatures, searching for a safe haven. We have seen this countless amount of times before, regardless on television or film, making this film lack the wow factor of never seeing anything like this before. Yeah, like its predecessor, go in expecting lots of running and chasing, but don’t expect to feel much in the way of thrills here. It’s pretty much a bland experience of watching people run from zombies, but something just doesn’t click here emotionally. Something I shouldn’t be complaining about, especially since there are far more things that these characters should be watching out for in the Scorch. Unfortunately, I have to point that out here.
Of course, you can’t really blame this film, especially since its a YA novel adaptation, and the director has to keep to the source material (or else just ditch this property, and create an original one), but it isn’t hard for there to be a tiny bit of change for the better. This problem about originality could have been forgotten had the rest of the film been great as a whole, but sadly, that doesn’t happen here, as The Scorch Trials merely feels like a inferior predecessor that’s trying hard to keep up with the shadows of the frontrunner. Being the second of three films, the thing that plagues this film would be how it just doesn’t seem to have a start or an end. The film begins abruptly, with Dylan O’Brien’s character Thomas waking up atop a plane, before having to run into a WCKED compound, where a whole lot of other survivors emerge. The film begins without any prior contextual knowledge, perhaps leaving those first-timers a hard time trying to keep up with what’s going on. This problem doesn’t really have to emerge- The Hunger Games – Catching Fire handled it well, making it a standalone event-movie experience- but it really feels uninviting to come aboard so late into the game. Furthermore, as a guy who didn’t read the novels before coming in, it doesn’t help that I got lost wandering about how certain things came about- eg. The Cranks etc. I don’t know if they are leaving the explanation for the third film, but it isn’t great when I have questions regarding mythology, when this film has to handle them. Ditto for character development, and plot advancement. Newcomers might have trouble trying to get to know the characters, as we pretty much know nothing new about any of them. Even the new characters are quickly forgotten, serving merely as plot devices that serve to advance a plot that doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere as well. Unlike the first film, where there was a clear direction (get outta the maze), here, we don’t (hey, let’s just go into the mountains! Oh no! They found us! Change of plans, lets go back).
Maybe all those were cut out at the expense of action sequences. Yeah, this film pretty much delivers. Though I can’t deny that this film really feels like it’s trying really hard to piece together a story, where the action sequences are the highlights, and everything else serves as filler. Sure, I can’t deny that the cinematography is beautiful, alongside the visuals. Everything looks amazing, and camera angles are well utilized throughout the film.
But, anyways, back to the issues. The film suffers from having a really dull color palette- and lots of dark shots, making this film less aesthetically pleasing. That’s really sad, since I have to say that Maze Runner is undoubtedly more colorful then this- and more eye pleasing. This problem plagues part of the film- despite the film having been going throughout lots of locales and settings, progressing from a WCKED outpost, to an abandoned mall, to a factory with tons of people, to a outpost on the mountains, to a city- the color palette really makes every place look the same. Undistinguishable, its really a pity, making none of this places stand out as much as the Glades (yeah, there’s a guy who says he misses the Glades a whole lot, and I certainly agree).
For all the tension that’s absent, this film pretty much makes up for all that with jump scares. They come a lot here, since the easily frightened me jumped quite a bit (my bad). Regardless, none of them are as impactful as you possibly imagine, and if you wanna compare this with the thrills you get watching Thomas and the rest escape the maze, I have to tell you this- they aren’t worth the comparison. Oh, and for a 131 minutes film, this film really feels slow at times- the action sequences feel like they might be dragged slightly (and like the locales, they don’t really seem special or symbolic in any way), while the thin threads that tie these sequences together feel lazy and at times, unnecessary.
Acting is decent, or in some cases sub par here. Dylan once again serves as the scene stealer here, being one the stronger actors here (he stars as Thomas, the main protagonist). The score, by John Paesano, who also composed the music for the original, is beautiful here as well, so no worries about that.
As a final statement, I know I have criticized this film quite a bit in this lengthy review, and yeah, there’s certainly lots of room to improve in, but as a standalone film, if you’re just going in for the visuals and the action sequences, you won’t be disappointed. Although the story is problematic at times and character development is almost non-existent, you definitely won’t be bored to death, with plenty of big budget CGI magic to keep you awake. So rest assured, if you’re the popcorn movie lover, and I re-emphasize, come along for the ride. Otherwise, keep away, and your money would be better spent in the months ahead, especially for the final installment to Hunger Games.
Oh, and don’t go in deceived by its title. There isn’t any maze here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And here’s my final verdict:
5.5/10 (Action-Packed, Beautiful Cinematography, but unoriginal as a whole, pales in comparison in every other category to the far superior Part 1)
On a scale of A to F, where F means stupid and dumb and ridiculous, and anything that you possibly wouldn’t love, and where A symbolizes perfection,
Character Development: D
Entertainment Factor: B+
P.S- I still don’t understand how that factory of sorts which Thomas and Friends escaped towards in the midst of the freak storm, which was clearly shown to be a standalone building in the vast expanse of the desert, magically stands next to a neighboring building which they could escape to when WKED forces arrive . And how the sewers, which I’m pretty sure is real far from the city, once again magically has its distance manipulated to seem like its real close. Just a small tidbit, anyways.