FILM REVIEW; THE SCORCH TRIALS

A couple of scenes into The Scorch Trials I realised just how little I could recollect from this film’s predecessor. As I write this I still haven’t bothered to hit the Wikisphere. I do remember was the tempering in tone of the Maze Runner to meet the 12-A rating in the UK. Having sat through this latest young adult adaptation I feel this Wes Ball directed feature really needed a more mature tone to resonate but alas the box office is king hence the PG 13 rating. The tempered tone meant we got scenes like the ones that pitted teenagers with real guns plus Barry Pepper behind a 50 caliber machine gun going against faceless enemy soldiers fighting back with glorified tasers. That said the film pushes the PG 13 rating to the limit and serves up some real distressing moments along with a few frights and a harsh aesthetic at points that kept affairs mildly interesting.

The Scorch Trials does appear to pick up right where The Maze Runner left off as the teens from The Glade have been rescued from the testing facility by team of commandos. The man in charge appears to be a certain Janson played by Aiden Gillen aka Little Finger. Now just like I find it hard to buy into an innocent character played by Lena Heady aka Cersei an aura of suspicion filters through as Gillens character utters words of assurance to the rescued teens. Our protagonist, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) surely is up to date on his Game of Thrones because he is immediately suspicious of the new facility and its host which houses other rescued teenagers from other mazes. They are told the plan is to slowly cart of the young ones to farm that sounds like some form of organic hippie paradise. The audience is clearly ahead of film which isn’t a good thing because it made all the teenagers look stupid with the exception of Thomas, of course, and the morose Aris (Jacob Lofland) who is the longest serving inhabitant of this facility.

Thomas eventually gets to the bottom of things with Aris’ help and we get some semblance of the bigger picture along with some key reveals.  With some evidence and conviction the guys make moves (spoiler alert: there’s some good sprinting) to escape this fortress of a facility and they kind of make light work of their attempt but alas the scorch trial and a hoard of Cranks (basically rabid zombies) await on the outside of the facility. Again we are ahead of the film as the tone tries to adopt one of dread but hold on, it’s a PG 13 flick so we can’t really test our audience’s nerves. The film is reduced to some horror clichés to tense up the atmosphere and ram home some frightening moments which admittedly do work in bits (but then again I’m a bit of a sissy). The scorch trial is meant to be a testing wasteland but i didn’t buy into it just like I didn’t buy into the idea of our teenagers being referred to like they were scampering rats beaten by the elements but still looking in tip top shape. We don’t even get shots of cracked lips as they make their way across this scorched trail.

There are still a lot of questions hovering around as the film progresses and on one hand you feel it is an attempt to align audiences with Thomas who still can’t recall key portions of past events and is still trying to process developments around him. However there have been a number of things that the film has decided to pretend never happened foremost among them the mazes. What was all that about? Yes we learn the teenagers are immune to the virus that turns people into cranks and they are the future of humanity but how do the mazes make them a more viable hope for humanity? The question of the mazes just bugged me, maybe more than it should have to be honest. There are some other questions that pop up which I simply attributed to holes in the script like the rules regarding Crank mutation. Are the Cranks afraid of the light or not? How did the virus spread? Is the much heralded cure an actual cure or standard Crank antiretroviral medication?  Also a little back story to the scorched dystopia of San Francisco we see kills no one.

The Scorch Trials should ultimately be viewed as a means to a hopefully exciting endgame. We are left with a fair idea of the stakes by the end of the film and we get a sense of the humanist element Ball may be driving at – #TeenageLivesMatter #LeaveNoManBehind. People who go to see this film will have to make do with the striking visuals and the practical well-constructed action sequences which play out well for a film that cost 65 million dollars. There’s a lot of running here guys, enough to induce fantasies of Tom Cruise featuring in the final film with his most superior of cinematic sprints. I felt like almost every sequence was set up for a mad dash. Our youngsters run through the shady facility. They run through crumbling buildings. They run from Cranks. They run from soldiers. They even run from a quasi-sentient lightening storm. I dare say there is probably more running in The Scorch Trials than The Maze Runner which has “runner” in its title. The film only truly demands our attention in the final act when we are given a better picture of this world. We are gifted a strong character moment by Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa giving some weight proceedings and setting up some interesting character dynamics in the final installment.

Wes Ball has confirmed he will NOT be splitting his sequel into two which is news in a world where the meager Hobbit novel was adapted into three long films. The final film will ultimately establish how successful the Maze Runner series is. These last two have been largely unspectacular and I’m still waiting for the central character of Thomas to come off as more than the one dimensional hunk he is. Dylan O’Brien hasn’t been given much to work with so far and I feel the final film will hinge on the conviction of his character’s drive.

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