Sunday, 13 September 2015

Film Review: Maze Runner - The Scorch Trials

The second instalment in a planned trilogy, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials continues the journey of Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and the other Maze survivors directly after their escape from the nightmarish labyrinth. 

With its characters suddenly thrust into a barren wasteland populated with flesh-eating zombies, The Scorch Trials is a very different film to its predecessor. You see, in escaping the Maze at the end of the last film, the group discover that what lies beyond the high walls is something even more demented and twisted; the Maze served as a test of skill for the teens, a test run by an organisation called WCKD (pronounced 'wicked') for the purpose of finding a cure for a deadly virus (called 'the Flare') that tore through humanity nearly a generation ago.

With Thomas, Teresa and the others all 'immune' to said virus, they're a very valuable commodity for WCKD head honcho Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and her right-hand man Janson (Aiden Gillen). Except, their tactics for curing this virus aren't exactly humane, and threaten the lives of everyone who opposes them - including Thomas and his friends.

Wes Ball (who also directed the first film) does an okay job; the film certainly looks great as the group of teens trek across the sparse deserts and dunes in search of fellow survivors. It's all very Mad Max or The Walking Dead. Likewise, the action scenes are also well-structured and engaging, from a panicked chase through a pitch dark shopping mall to a tense gunfight inside a derelict warehouse.

My main issue was with the editing; The Scorch Trials suffers from the same issue as the first Hunger Games movie in that the filmmakers have employed quick, choppy editing to dampen the impact of the violence and hold onto that all-important M-rating. The action scenes may be tense and inventive, but I found them hard to follow at times because of the rapid and messy cuts. A lot of the film also takes place at night, which worsens this issue.

The film is quite violent at times as well, especially for kids; the movie settles on a tone that feels like I Am Legend meets The Hunger Games, meaning that some scenes can be quite graphic or scary for the younger end of this film's YA demographic.

Aside from Thomas and Teresa, the bulk of the characters aren't given that much depth or growth. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is under-utilised as Newt, as is Patricia Clarkson. As the plot progresses, the story collects plenty of fresh-faces - Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Alan Tudyk, Rosa Salazar, Lili Taylor - and none of them are really afforded the time to leave an impression. You get the sense that they're more important characters in the book, and are required to pop up here regardless of how throwaway their inclusion is. The best newcomer is easily Aiden Gillen as Janson. Gillen makes for a really great villain who sneers and snarls his way through each and every scene.

Also, whilst Kaya Scodelario gets an interesting character arc as Teresa, it's almost bolted onto the final third as an afterthought. It doesn't help that her character (along with so many others) is absent through most of the middle section of the film. She's a much more interesting character than Thomas, and it was a shame that this important plot point felt so secondary. Hopefully it receives more attention next time.

Scorch Trials is also hamstrung by middle film syndrome in that it neither has a clear-cut beginning nor ending. The characters merely move from one point to another, with little or no genuine plot advancement taking place. Much like the third Hunger Games movie, a lot of the drama is saved for the final entry in the series. If it's answers you're looking for, you won't find them here...

The Verdict: 6/10

Where the first film had mystery and suspense, The Scorch Trials has explosive, high-stakes action that doesn't carry the same emotional weight. The lid on Pandora's Box has been lifted, leaving behind a whole world of questions and storylines that the film leaves dangling for next time, for better or for worse. Rich in new characters and locations, this hit-and-miss sequel teeters towards overblown on more than one occasion.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is in cinemas across Australia now.

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