Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 131 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. This sequel to last year’s ‘The Maze Runner’ continues in the vein of that film, with a lot of violence (including fighting, beating, electrocution, and other implied torture and human experimentation), some deaths (including a character committing suicide), and hungry, angry zombies. Also a bit of an implied love triangle, some cursing, some language, and a post-apocalyptic rave where a couple of teens do some drugs.
‘Maze Runner: Scorch Trials’ gets rid of the maze, but keeps the panicked, clueless teens. The overly long film runs in place most of the time, but at least it’s stylish.
By Roxana Hadadi
The most-recent post-apocalyptic young-adult films flooding theaters have a tendency to be overly complex, and “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is no exception. The young characters run from place to place, from allegiance to allegiance, with seemingly no sense of what they’re doing. Viewers won’t really follow the plot, either—not even readers of the original book, because the film version makes some crucial changes to the second half of the story—but at least it looks good. If there is anything this series has done right so far, it’s nailing the visuals.
Last year’s “The Maze Runner” introduced the concept of teenagers stuck in a maze, with no memory of who they are, with the challenge of surviving the maze’s shifting walls and the monsters inside of it. Protagonist Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, of “The Internship”) can’t remember what his life was like before the maze, but by the end of the film, he and his friends—and the maze’s lone female, his love interest Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, of “Clash of the Titans”)—realize that they are test subjects for the organization that made the maze, WCKD.
WCKD was interested in the teens because the shady scientist adults in charge are trying to find a cure for a virus that has infected most of the world and turned them into zombies, but “The Maze Runner” ends with the group being rescued from WCKD’s lab headquarters. “The Scorch Trials” begins almost immediately after, with Thomas and Co. meeting their rescuer, Janson (Aidan Gillen, of “The Dark Knight Rises”), who promises them that they’re safe now.
But he’s an adult, so of course he can’t be trusted—and when Thomas notices that some of the other kids in the facility are disappearing, he realizes something is up. Frightened by what could be happening to his friends, Thomas decides to abandon the facility and lead everyone into the Scorch, the ruined outside world, burnt to a crisp and turned into a desert by the apocalyptic event the “Flare.”
Can they survive out there? There are barely any resources, and the zombies infected by the Flare are searching for them; so is WCKD and Jansen’s group. It’s up to Thomas to try and keep his friends alive and reach a resistance group called the Right Arm before they’re killed by the zombies, captured by WCKD again, or worse.
The worst thing about “The Scorch Trials” is, ultimately, the total lack of forward movement. Such is the case with so many middle editions of young-adult franchises (“Insurgent,” the recent sequel to “Divergent,” suffered from the exact same problem), but “The Scorch Trials” feels particularly tedious because the characters are on the run the whole time, fleeing from one place to another, with no actual change in their circumstances or their character development. A late reveal about a character Thomas trusts sets up a cliffhanger and potential drama for the next film, but otherwise Thomas is the Chosen One, his friends are his Anonymous Supporters, and all the adults are the Bad Guys. Character development is either totally nonexistent or totally obvious.
Nevertheless, “The Scorch Trials” looks great: Outside of the trapped maze of the first film, the visuals here are bonkers, if derivative from other apocalyptic films like “Mad Max.” The time the teens spend traipsing through the desert is shot beautifully, and a desert rave where Thomas takes a hallucinogenic drug is nicely surreal.
Plus, the changes from the original source text might set up good conversations with teen viewers: Which version of the story did they prefer? What changes do they think worked from novel to film, and which didn’t? Do they think the characters from the books are portrayed correctly, or do they find WCKD sympathetic?
As much as “The Scorch Trials” feels like it resists plot progression, it provides a lot to digest and a variety of concepts for parents and teens to talk through. But like even Thomas admits by the end of the film, you’ll certainly grow tired of all the running.
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