The Scorch Trials

Posted by Joel Copling on September 17, 2015

Sometimes when a series reveals its ideas, the ideas turn out to be pretty useless, and "The Scorch Trials" is the latest poster boy for this regressive trend (For another, even more insulting example just from this year, see "Insurgent," the follow-up to 2014's "Divergent" and second installment in a young-adult series). The film is an adaptation (by T.S. Nowlin) of the second novel in yet another young-adult series (by James Dashner), and it comes as an unfortunate surprise after the likes of its predecessor. The genuinely intriguing thing about 2014's "The Maze Runner" was how it didn't feel the need to dump a bunch of muddied exposition into the audience's lap. True to form, this first sequel (with two more planned to arrive before the decade has ended) does away with the need for much explanation. This is damning faint praise, however, as the movie runs into another problem: Now there's barely anything that makes sense or, consequently, has any stakes.

It opens minutes after the first film ended, with Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) at the head of a group of refugees--including Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the basically interchangeable Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Winston (Alexander Flores)--from the maze in which they found themselves trapped like rats in a cage (or more accurately, as the final scenes of the first film revealed, guinea pigs in a laboratory). They have narrowly escaped WCKD, the group of merciless scientists (led by Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige) whose acronym stands for the World Catastrophe Killzone Department (No, this nonsensical name doesn't clarify anything about them or their purpose), by finding sanctuary with a resistance led by Janson (Aidan Gillen).

Of course, none of this is as it seems. Janson is certainly not whom he says, leading to a dull middle act of escape and more refuge-seeking that drags toward a mildly diverting third one where some more pieces of this mystery are made known (although it's as if the chess game has gotten to the stage where the pieces are out of the plastic bag in which they were stashed, again intriguingly, for the duration of the first movie and on the coffee table next to the board). The screenplay, along with disposing of much in the order of endless explanation, does away with much in the order of common sense, such as a resistance army in the desert whose trust Thomas and the others gain through a tenuous connection that leaves a gaping hole where logic previously resided and a random sequence of substance use that doesn't fit even if it does (if that makes sense). Action sequences are competently staged by director Wes Ball, performances are functional without rising to an occasion that doesn't really exist, and "The Scorch Trials" ends with such an obvious sequel stinger that it's more like the film is interrupted in mid-thought.

Film Information

Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Ki Hong Lee (Minho), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Dexter Darden (Frypan), Alexander Flores (Winston), Jacob Lofland (Aris Jones), Rosa Salazar (Brenda), Giancarlo Esposito (Jorge), Patricia Clarkson (Ava Paige), Aidan Gillen (Janson), Lili Taylor (Mary), Barry Pepper (Vince).

Directed by Wes Ball and written by T.S. Nowlin, based on the novel "The Scorch Trials" by James Dashner.

Rated PG-13 (extended violence/action, thematic elements, substance use, language).

131 minutes.

Released on September 18, 2015.