“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is wildly different from its predecessor. While the first film was a very contained mystery about a group of teenagers trapped by a deadly maze, its sequel is nothing but non-stop action as the group goes on the run across a barely recognizable San Francisco, and conflicting allegiances that come to light as the intrigue around the group who kept in the maze in the first place comes to light. But while the difference between the two films is rather jarring, “The Scorch Trials” is easily one of the most entertaining, scary, and thought-provoking action movies of the year.
Wes Ball returns to direct the sequel, with Dylan O’Brien reprising his role as Thomas, the young man whose actions got the group out of the maze. The story picks up right where the last movie left off, with Thomas and his friends Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores) being rescued from WCKD—the organization devoted to finding a cure for whatever illness caused the apocalypse—and taken to a mysterious facility led by Janson (Aidan Gillen). It’s there that they meet kids who came from other mazes, including Aris (Jacob Lofland), who convinces Thomas that Janson is up to no good. When they discover that they are still in the hands of WCKD, whose leader Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) wants to harvest their blood to manufacture a cure, they go on the run through what is now a zombie-infested desert to find the Right Arm, a resistance group supposedly hiding out in the distant mountains.
Yes that’s right, zombies. Even though they are never called that in the movie, that’s basically what this disease that destroyed humanity has turned them in to. While it is a bit of a let-down to discover that the answer to what was so intriguing a mystery in the first film is merely “The Walking Dead” on steroids, the movie is still exciting and intense at every turn. And these aren’t the tame zombies you might expect from a movie geared toward young people. They’re fast, and they’re terrifying, from the young girl with her eyes gouged out that they find in an abandoned mall, to the zombies Thomas comes across in a sewer, peeling themselves away from the walls where roots have grown over their supposedly-dead bodies. Every action sequence, of which there are many, if not especially unique (prepare for a lot of running away from things), is thrilling, partly because Wes Ball does such a great job building up suspense before all the craziness breaks out—for instance, when the kids are in that abandoned mall. We all know something bad is going to happen, and the camera follows the characters around as they gradually discover bits and pieces of the lives of the people who used to live there, the only light coming from their lanterns. It’s a very well-done sequence, and the rest of the big action sequences in the movie are no different.
The cast is outstanding as well. All of the young actors reprising their roles from the first film continue to do a good job with their characters, particularly O’Brien, who has trouble remembering anything about WCKD from when he worked there, and Scodelario, whose Teresa does regain her memories and begins to have doubts about just how terrible WCKD’s intentions are. But the cast this time around is rounded out by the appearance of some great character actors, including Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge, a man who looks to profit from WCKD’s interest in the kids but ends up helping them instead, and Alan Tudyk as Marcus, a drunk who supposedly can lead them to the Right Arm. Rosa Salazar’s tough Brenda is another worthy new addition to the cast.
The great thing about this film and the “Maze Runner” series in general is that there aren’t any clear-cut good guys and bad guys. The movie instead challenges the viewer to think, to consider the situation and just what would be the right thing to do. WCKD needs to harvest healthy teenagers, but by doing so they could create a cure that would end the disease and save humanity. Thomas wants to stop them and save his friends, but by doing so, he’s preventing that cure from being developed. While we know we’re meant to root for Thomas, the moral ambiguities are still present, and that’s a big part of what makes this such a compelling series. Don’t dismiss it as more standard young adult dystopian fare. As over-saturated as that genre has become, this series stand out as one of the best.
Runtime: 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre