“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is the follow up to 2014’s “The Maze Runner,” both directed by Wes Ball. Based upon the novel of the same name by James Dashner, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” continues the adventures of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of the Gladers as they traverse a barren wasteland in order to save their lives. Aside from that loose outline of the plot, the film manages to divert away from many of the main events of the novel, which is similar to the way the first installment was presented. And like the original “The Maze Runner,” this sequel loses a lot of the feeling and intrigue—feeling and intrigue that was critical in making the novel a page-turner—when translated from book to film.
This installment focuses on Thomas’ escape from the organization W.I.C.K.E.D with his friends Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Darden), Winston (Alexander Flores), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and newcomer Aris (Jacob Lofland). Their escape takes them through the desolate desert to an old, abandoned city of destruction, where unexplained and frightening dangers lurk in the form of Cranks. Cranks are zombie-like humans who are infected with the Flare virus, far beyond the point of salvage. While dealing with these creatures, Thomas and co. meet up with Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), two mysterious rogues in hiding, who agree to help take them to The Right Arm, a secret organization working against W.I.C.K.E.D to help free the kids who are captive and subjected to a life in the Maze. And all of this goes down as the escapees are being hunted down by Janson (Aidan Gillen), a W.I.C.K.E.D worker who takes his orders from Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson).
Throughout the film, one major comment is made that seems to sum up perfectly the thought many will have while watching. After the initial escape, Newt says to Thomas, “You have no idea where we’re going or what we’re doing.” Bingo! The film loses the purpose the book sets up so well. If not for knowledge of the novel, this film would have no sense to it as it lacks any defining drive to see it through. It exists for the sake of existing, and the characters are responding and reacting to things without motivation or attempting to gather the information to seek a motivation. Once they escape W.I.C.K.E.D’s base, they’re left wandering with no plan, no goal, and without a legitimate call to action the novel is able to incorporate.
Aside from that, one other major mistake the film made was the lack of connection between Thomas and Teresa. The novel focuses heavily on this, creating a hidden layer of ulterior motive for Thomas on an actual quest he and his friends are taking. Without that connection, the stakes for Thomas aren’t that high, and we don’t entirely care about what is motivating him because we actually have no clue what is. Brenda also plays an important role in the novel, and while she somewhat rises to the occasion in the film, she didn’t juxtapose with Teresa as intended, so another connection and layer is missed out on.
The one thing the film gets right is the fear. There’s a foreboding, chilling fear induced due to the wasteland and the Cranks who live within it. Visually, the world is built well, the Cranks are downright vile looking, and their curdling screeches echoing in the hollow and abandoned buildings and tunnels are the stuff of nightmares. We also get a good glimpse of the purpose of W.I.C.K.E.D in this film, and it brings about a lot of questions that, without actually realizing it, are wanted answers. It’s a good sign for a film that’s granted a third installment, but is ultimately bogged down by the choppy storytelling and missed opportunities in the completely altered plot.
Overall, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” diverts too much from the novel to be a proper depiction of it. Major plot points are missed out on that deflate the whole purpose of the film. There’s little interpersonal connection with the characters which plays a major role in the novel. There’s a problem with the plot, the role the characters play in it, and the series of events that lead Thomas and his friends to their final destination—a problem that is nowhere to be found in the novel. The good thing about the film is the fear it creates and the questions that surface as a result of the journey, but guess what? The novel does that, too—and better. Book-to-film projects are nine times out of ten lackluster compared to their source material. “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is sadly part of the majority in that figure. Like its predecessor, it is lost to the point of being unrecognizable.
Final grade? C