The trend of YA novel adaptations shows absolutely no sign of slowing down, with newer franchises continually coming into play to be the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games. It’s led to some foul duds the likes of The Host, The Mortal Instruments, and many more. One of the better ones, however, came in the form of last year’s surprisingly enjoyable The Maze Runner, and in spite of its inconsistence in action and pace, made for an entertaining watch thanks to its interesting mystery and engaging characters. A sequel was obviously to be expected, and unlike its predecessor, The Scorch Trials largely pushes its characters to the sidelines in favor of bigger – less satisfying – action.
This sequel moves at a needlessly rushed pace, continuing on from previous events with little in the way of recap, and through much of the film feels completely disinterested in developing its characters in any new or interesting ways. The first film had a charm and likability present in its characters, despite the fact that several of them existed solely to pad the film’s main cast and body count. However, all of these same characters are reduced to ciphers that exist solely to exist, being given next to nothing good to work with, which is a shame as both the younger players of the film, as well as the impressive character actors (such as Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Barry Pepper) all have a lot of good promise that is never realized. Or some of them are just poorly integrated, such as an over the top Alan Tudyk who briefly appears in the film’s second half, that feels like a character out of a completely different film. At least Aiden Gillen makes for an entertaining villain, but it still doesn’t make up for the weak slate on display. It actually feels like it suffers from a common vice of most YA novel adaptations, wherein I would understand what's going on much better if I'd read the book, but with good writing, such a thing shouldn't matter
Action is where director Wes Ball wants to focus much of his attention on, and in doing so, he distractingly tends to find himself drawing from other, better source materials. One of the most obvious is the mood and atmosphere of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, specifically in sequences where two characters navigate their way through sewers (only barely justifying the Maze Runner title), but more painfully the mall sequence. It’s here where the characters finally come in contact with the Flare infected Cranks, who act and operate in a nearly identical fashion to the Infected, right down to more mutated forms that feel directly ripped off from the Clickers, vocalizations and all. Yet the film never gets much use out of the creatures, which tend to get sidelined, and are somehow even less intimidating than the steampunk Grievers of the first entry. It makes Ball’s attempts at suspense even more fruitless, as these dopey creatures, which the film forgoes convincing prosthetics in favor of CGI throw-up, are frankly laughable, and it feels cheapened even more by how it forces repeated jump scares on the viewer. More curiously, Ball even makes brief nods to Spielberg, such as one scene where a character is pressed against a glass window similar to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and while these show a respectful nod to his influences, they fail to stand on their own feet. Even if all of that weren't holding the film back, the action still wouldn't be fun as the over reliance on incomprehensible shaky cam becomes an unbearable nuisance.
Much of the film feels like nothing but filler build up, and it’s only in the film’s final twenty minutes that anything remotely interesting is done not just with action, but with character as well, but by then it’s too little too late. Twenty minutes of anything decent does not justify over an hour and a half of completely inconsequential story that could have been chopped in half and had just as much (if not more) impact, and leaves a bittersweet taste as its credits begin to roll. Hopefully things will have improved in the third and final entry in 2017, and if anything good comes out of it, I’m at least happy that it won’t feel the need to split that book into two films.
** / *****