They might have fought their way out of a deadly maze with cyborg assassin spiders, but their trials are far from over. Because what’s a YA Dystopian movie without two sequels?
But lest I be overtaken by cynicism, I must admit: The Scorch Trials is quite a different movie from its predecessor, and I mean that in the best possible way. The mysteries of amnesia and the unknown of the maze are not heavy themes in this story, and indeed are hardly present at all. Thomas and his friends emerge from the maze to find a world scorched by the sun, most of the world left to a desert wasteland not unlike the backdrop of The Book of Eli. The scorching of the Earth has also created a virus that has wiped out most of humanity. The people in the maze were the people that were immune to the virus, and the maze itself was the first in a set of tests, to result in the salvation of humanity.
And, surprise! This is actually a zombie movie now. Like full zombie movie. They never actually use the word “zombie” mind you, but it’s a virus that makes people walking rotting flesh that stay dormant until people are around and then they try to eat them. Except these guys run. Which is kind of terrifying. Just a little bit.
At first glance this may seem like a cheap way to dig into the latest Hollywood fad (or TV fad, as The Walking Dead brought this subgenre back to the limelight), but that really isn’t the case. Instead, it works as a new backdrop rather than just a recycled plot from the first film. Now, there’s plenty of running, to be sure, but this really does feel like a new story. There are certainly cliche elements as we go through this story, from the scientist who kills kids to save humanity to the sanctuary that’s actually a slaughtering house. But the freshness of the story in comparison to the franchise as a whole is enough to maintain interest.
But the biggest weakness of this film is that it works so hard to maintain interest, and pushes the action so much, that we almost forget to care about the characters themselves, beyond the fact that maybe we don’t want them to die. The script tries really hard to develop the relationship between Thomas and Teresa, but it mostly fails in that. The background story that is unveiled between the two of them is interesting, but they don’t have a whole lot of chemistry, and much of their dialogue seems cliche and forced.
Of more interest is the introduction of two new characters: Brenda and Jorge. Jorge is something of a gang leader that turns into a reluctant friend of theirs, and Brenda his right-hand woman. The latter of these two goes through a pretty compelling character arc, from this hard-hearted survivor in the wilderness to someone who begins to see the good in other people. Teresa, on the other hand, seems hardly different than she did when we first meet her in The Maze Runner, except that she remembers stuff now. This is an important flaw in the development of the film too, because even though Jorge and Brenda are fantastic additions to the cast, the franchise wants to make the prime focus on Thomas and Teresa, and it just doesn’t quite work.
But as an adventure film, it’s still entertaining, and not without its virtues. As many of these heroic films do, bravery and self-sacrifice is embraced, and Thomas continually thinks of the lives of his friends more than himself. The backstory of his that is introduced makes this even more abundantly clear, and gives viewers a great deal of respect for Thomas’s character. The action is, at moments, some of the best I’ve seen in this genre, especially one dizzying scene in particular where they’re rushing through a sideways building. But with a script that favors four-letter words and a less-than-satisfying character arc, the film is fun enough to be a Redbox popcorn flick, but never meaningful enough to compete with the headliners of the YA dystopia genre.