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Maze Runner sequel The Scorch Trials (Twentieth Century Fox, September 2015; PG-13) reminded me of two very important Siân facts:
I should never, ever drink anything before or during a movie.
I am no hero.
If you’re looking to take a road trip in which you do not stop every 45 minutes for pee breaks, you probably don’t want to be traveling with me. Additionally, if you’re looking for someone to run toward the gun fight, carry you to safety as you slowly change into a zombie, or single-handedly storm a government-controlled facility of horror to save you, you definitely don’t want to be traveling with me.
A plane flew low over my apartment recently and my only panicked thought was, “THE END IS NIGH!”
No one can accuse me of excess courage.
Now that we’ve discussed my cowardice, let’s move on to how scared I was during the movie.
The Scorch Trials is thrilling. I have no idea how similar it is to the book (I’m guessing from the Wikipedia entry that the answer is “not at all”), but the movie was downright gripping. The Gladers, thinking they have been saved from the supposedly-good-but-actually-evil hold of WCKD, find themselves prisoners once again. Led by handsome, heroic, and utterly heedless Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), several boys and one girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), escape from the facility and go storming into The Scorch (which appears to be the once-lush, now-barren-desert San Francisco) with little aim beyond “escape.”
What followed was 132 minutes of me hiding behind my knees, desperately thinking, “nonononononono this suspense has to let up sometime, right? RIGHT?”
The band of teens race through wind-blown desert, vacant and neglected cities, and into the mountains hunted by the WCKD doctors Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen); attacked by horrifying zombie-like people infected with…something (the flare?); and harassed by healthy people who are just plain mean (like Alan Tudyk’s character, Blondie, who really should have had a cooler name than that).
James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic world is brought to terrifying life with some incredibly expansive and remarkably detailed settings whose stark monoliths are paralleled in a number of shots of the teens, standing backlit, brave, and alone. The special effects help highlight the sheer terror present in this world — awful thunderstorms, disgusting zombies — without pushing realism (too far) or diverting from the plot.
Clarkson and Gillen’s stoic adults are perfect bad guys: frighteningly calm and emotionally removed but motivated by red-hot moral righteousness. The boys are exactly the type of teen heroes we want to root for: O’Brien’s Thomas is all determined morality; Ki Hong Lee’s Minho is smart, sassy, and totally badass; Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt is just the right mix of skeptical observer and dedicated friend; and Dexter Darden’s Frypan brings gentle humor and kindness to the daring crew.The only character who doesn’t add anything to the ensemble is, unfortunately, Teresa, the only female in the group.
Through no fault of her own, Scodelario’s character speaks little and does even less, seemingly a character whose sole purpose is bringing about the emotional growth of the male protagonist. I will also add that, ideologically, I am angry with the character of Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who seems to exist only to tempt the sainthood of Thomas and thus suffer karmic repercussions because can we PLEASE stop using female characters as tools for male character growth? But that would be a digression. And we all know the internet is not the place for digression or outrage.