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One of the greatest film surprises for me last year was The Maze Runner, a film based on a young adult sci-fi book that I’d never read starring a group of kids I recognized but couldn’t name.
I figured, because I was fair-to-middling on the Hunger Games movies and utterly despised the first Divergent movie, that The Maze Runner full movie would fall somewhere in between. I ended up actually liking it a lot, which made me super excited for the sequel, The Scorch Trials full movie, which sped into production when the first one proved a sensation.
In many ways, it’s a huge step up from the previous film, in terms of scope and scares and, dear God, running, but it also definitely suffers a bit from “Middle Part Syndrome.” One thing I certainly appreciate about The Maze Runner The Scorch Trials is that it doesn’t spend any time re-acclimating the viewers to the world of the film. You have to remember everything that went on in part 1 or you just won’t understand what they’re talking about.
Largely, this is because there’s just no time. This movie moves at a speed that’s almost too fast, with most sequences featuring the main characters running away from something that’s going to catch them if they slow down for a moment. While it does find some time for quiet reflection, it’s a lot of breathless fleeing. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
To catch people up, at the end of the last movie, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and some, but not all, of his mates from the Glade had escaped the Maze and found it to be led by a clandestine agency known as WCKD, or Wicked for talking purposes. Suddenly, a group of paramilitary break in to save them, but that seems to have been a ruse.
When this movie picks up, Thomas and the gang – comprising of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Minho (Ke Hong Lee) – get taken to a barracks of some kind ruled by Jansen (played by Aidan Gillen) where they encounter other kids from other mazes. It seems they’re the only ones immune to whatever disease helped to turn vast amounts of people into Cranks, or basically fast zombies.
Very soon, Thomas and a strange kid from another maze known as Aris (Jacob Lofland) realize that kids are being taken into a room, made catatonic or dead, and their blood is being harvested, presumably to find a cure. This ain’t okay with Thomas, so he orchestrates an escape, but Jansen quickly warns that they’ll never survive The Scorch, a.k.a. what’s left of the Earth — a massive desert full of ruins of the old world. The only thing Thomas has to go on is the notion that a resistance group living in the mountains is battling Wicked and they head for that, along the way suffering losses and making new friends, including Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (played by Giancarlo Esposito). But Wicked is never far away, and might even be closer than anyone thinks.
In some ways, The Maze Runner The Scorch Trials is a major improvement over the previous film. For starters, it seems more like our characters are in a wider world, not just part of some odd little alcove of sci-fi Lord of the Flies. Mostly gone (but not entirely) are the lengthy explanations of what things are and why they’re called the dumb little jargonny nicknames (“we call it the Glade;” “we call it a Screamer”). Things are mainly just allowed to exist and the characters can intuit what everything is without needing a branding. Jargon that needs explanation is my least favorite thing in movies.
The bigger pictures leads to some really wondrous and creepy vistas, with the characters forced to travel through the desert, past fallen bridges and toppled buildings, which in the end they have to run through. The Cranks as this film’s monsters, replacing the large insectoids of the Maze, make a lot more sense. They feel like regular ol’ zombies, but it all tracks within the context of the story, and frankly they’re just easier to buy. One of the tensest scenes in the whole film is when Thomas and Brenda find their way into a dark tunnel only to find a pack of the worst kind of Crank.
There’s a ton of great action, the characters are mostly defined well and played very well, and the new additions are rightfully additions and not diversions. But where the movie falters a little is in being the second part of a trilogy. While there’s certainly an arc to this film, a lot of it feels like we’re just waiting around for part 3, which will surely come out next year. The same thing happened with Catching Fire; it felt like the REAL stuff was going to happen in Mockingjay. There needed to be a bit more introspection, a-la the best example of a part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, if it was going to be more than just a bridge. That being said, The Maze Runner The Scorch Trials with no doubt succeeded in making me look forward to the next entry, so I guess it did its job.