In the battlegrounds of Young Adult novel adaptations, The Maze Runner series is one of the stronger offerings. From a $34 Million Budget it made ten times that at the box office and earned decent reviews. A sequel was inevitable and “The Scorch Trials” expands the universe while the characters having to find people they try to figure out who to trust.
“The Scorch Trials” picks up where the first movie left off: the Gladers are taken by a Special Forces team to a military facility run by Janson (Aidan Gillen). Janson promises the teens that they are safe and they are saved from the subtly named WCKD. But Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), along with another kid, Aris (Jacob Lofland) discover that Janson is actually working for WCKD and all the survivors of the Glade suffer an uncertain fate if they stay. Their only hope is to escape to the mountains and find a fabled rebel army, avoiding WCKD, bandits and zombie like beings called Cranks in a hostile desert environment.
“The Scorch Trials” is much more expansive movie then The Maze Runner, showing the wider world of the franchise. The Maze Runner was basically a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies about a society of young people coming up with rules to function and having conflicting ideals while also incorporating elements of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where all the characters only know the world of The Glade and need to find out what the real world is. It was a taut sci-fi mystery as the boys and eventual girl try to figure out who they are, what lies beyond the walls and figure out who put them in The Glade and why. The first act of “The Scorch Trials” keeps this mystery style, the characters not knowing who to trust, who the people who took them really are and what they are doing to people to whom they promise are going to a safe zone. It was like Michael Bay’s The Island where the characters are claimed to be found from an wasteland, kept in a concrete facility and discovery that there are being used for the benefit of others.
When the Gladers break out of the facility is the moment “The Scorch Trials” changes from being a sci-fi mystery to a non-stop post-apocalyptic actioneer. All the zombie action makes “The Scorch Trials” into a PG-13 version of The Walking Dead, Gladers running away from the hordes, going through ruined cities and seeing different group trying to survive in the desert environment. One scene that could have easily have been fitted in The Walking Dead – where a group of bandits have zombies chained up and uses them as guard dogs. Post-apocalyptic movies like the Mad Max series comes to mind when in The Scorch because of the desert environments and the clothing of most of the characters are like the good guys in the “The Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome”. Even the basic plot is similar to “Fury Road“, that a group of people are on the run from an organization that want to use their body against their will and look for a paradise: but this is more a coincidence due to how soon the two movies having come out very closely to each other.
Wes Ball returns to the director’s chair and keeps a very fast pace. When The Gladers start to escape from the facility Ball keeps the action going as they escape from zombies and face off against WCKD’s forces. The best moments are the action sequences when WCKD raid a building run by bandits and a sequence where two characters avoid a group of determined zombies. It was near continuous catch movie. However some of the action is reliant on shaky cam because as The Gladers avoid the zombies and worst still is most of the action takes place in the dark and was very poorly lit.
Ball comes from a Special Effects background and “The Scorch Trials” excels on this front. The ruined cities were fantastic to look at, filled with detail, being areas of sand, rock and rubble. It is scenery that could stand alongside the best post-apocalyptic cityscapes. The money was well spent. A sequence in a tunnel that is cover in blood was influenced by a similar scene in James Cameron’s Aliens, showing an action-horror influence. That sequence does have an obvious CGI rat, but to dwell on it would be splitting hairs.
“The Scorch Trials” is a very dark movie for a YA adaptation. The zombies were very degusting creations, creatures that had ripped out their own eyes which is a truly horrific look and idea to have. When someone is inflected with the Flare Virus it has a truly gruesome look as their body decays before they succumb to it: the transformation could easily fit in an R-rated zombie movie let alone a YA adaptation. A powerful moment comes when the character leave an infected person and stop when they hear a gunshot. The lab within the facility had a very eerie look, using harsh blue lighting while two characters walk in a room with character dangling from the ceiling.
The surviving members of cast all return and perform and they are strong in their respective roles. They are also joined by some older actors like Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar. Gillen is the face of the villains and he brings his distrustful quality that he brought to Game of Thrones as Lord Baelish, AKA Littlefinger. He was an effective villain, being a sleazeball, but his naive Irish accent did split through occasionally. Alan Tudyk appears briefly as a distrustful man in the desert and is allowed to camp it up; he brings a lightness to a very dower movie.
“The Scorch Trials” is commendable for changing up the formula of the first movie, setting out a bigger world and being a different type of story. It is a darker tale and should easily please fans of YA dystopia movies while also being a strong post- apocalyptic action movie in its own right.
Disclaimer: this review is based on the British version which has been slightly cut to receive a 12A certificate.