Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
When last we saw Thomas, he was dodging cyborg spiders, outwitting nefarious scientists and flirting with that ugly wallflower called Death.
But the Maze finally bid Thomas and his pals adieu without so much as a parting gift. And after the teens made their escape, some soldiers swooped in and rescued them from the dastardly scientists of WCKD. Whew!
Alas, the soldiers turn out to be pretty WCKD themselves, as evidenced from the bevy of comatose teens locked away in a back room, plastic tubes draining them of blue fluid until they're dead. (And no, I don't quite know why they're leaking blue, either.) Frypan, meet fire.
Granted, WCKD has its reasons. The world outside has seen better days, and most of humanity has succumbed to something called the Flare—a disease that turns folks into crazed, zombie-like beings known as Cranks. WCKD wants to find a cure, and they discovered that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be immune to the Flare, and thus potentially have a vaccine locked away in your colorful corpuscles. Isn't the survival of the human race worth turning a few teens into jerky?
Well … no. Especially if you happen to be, y'know, a teen and all. So Thomas gathers a few old friends and a couple of new ones, and they escape—again. Only this time there's no maze to run, no spiders to kill. Outside WCKD's fabricated confines, there's only a shattered wasteland, filled with sand and heat and inexplicable lightning storms … and Cranks. Lots and lots and lots of Cranks. And, of course, there's always WCKD—chasing, pursuing, hunting. Thomas and his cadre, after all, are precious vessels, perhaps holding the secret to saving all of mankind. WCKD won't let them go.
Thomas is an unlikely leader. In fact, in The Scorch Trials book (written by James Dashner), the boy has been given a neck tattoo that singles him out for slaughter. But in both the book and the movie he has a number of leadership skills that set him apart: His courage, his ability to think under pressure, his knack for giving inspiring speeches at opportune times. Additionally, perhaps his most winsome trait is his willingness to risk nearly everything for his friends.
Thomas shows his sacrificial side repeatedly. He rescues people again and again, and he refuses to abandon his mates even under some pretty dire circumstances. While he'd agree the Flare is pretty horrific, he sees the horror in WCKD's efforts to fight it, too—and he's determined to put a stop to their, well, wicked ways, even if it costs him his own life. Little wonder that his friends—Newt, Teresa and Minho, along with new cohorts Frypan, Brenda and Aris—often follow his example, walking with him into seriously perilous situations.
The idea of ghosts comes up a couple of times, but more figuratively than literally. The teens' immunity is referred to as "a gift of biology, of evolution."
Thomas and Brenda are separated from the group during their escape, and their comrades search for them in a dystopian pit of iniquity. The entryway features women who are clearly up for some end-of-the-world seduction. Inside, men and women, sometimes designed to give off a rather androgynous vibe, mingle and sway to the music, giving the place the feel of a particularly decadent nightclub. Under the influence of some drink, Brenda tries to seduce Thomas, suggesting they forget about everyone else. They kiss, and Thomas sees Teresa instead of Brenda.
Teresa changes tops, most of her body covered by a screen. That doesn't stop Frypan from ogling, though. When it's learned that Aris was in another Glade entirely populated by women, someone quips, "Some guys have all the luck."
Dystopian worlds are rarely peaceful, and the land Thomas finds himself in is no exception. Particularly creepy are the Cranks—zombie-like humans (but much faster and, as such, more prone to make viewers jump) that seem to exist only to kill and eat. (One Crank grabs a rat and bites its head off.) Most are deformed by the disease and the ensuing wear and tear it triggers. (Undead-like decay is common, and some Cranks have ripped out their own eyes.) Those in the latter stages of the Flare have odd tendrils protruding from their bodies, even sometimes from their mouths.
A would-be Crank victim is bitten on the leg. We see the bloody wound at first, then later see the skin blackened and diseased. A teen raked across the belly by Crank claws begins to get sick, his stomach turning into a mangled mass of grayish-black skin. He begs to be left behind, and Thomas and the rest eventually do just that—leaving their gun with him. As they hike away, they hear a single shot.
Thomas and others fight the Cranks, and Cranks fight one another, too—pushing and squashing their kin in an effort to reach prey. Two fall to their doom from significant heights. Others are punched and shot.
WCKD personnel chase the teens, armed with serious stun guns that immobilize victims with visible electricity. Those resisting WCKD rely on more lethal means, shooting revolvers and rifles, sometimes killing with them. One battle scene is strewn with covered bodies. A man is tied up and severely beaten—ostensibly by one of the good guys—until he divulges a secret. His face is bruised and bloodied, one eye swollen shut.
A warehouse is blown up, presumably crushing the people inside. People are shot dead, sometimes suffering bloody wounds. Unconscious teens hang in a laboratory, tubes pumping fluid out of their bodies. When Thomas takes a shower, we see blood trickle down the drain. Someone sucker-punches Thomas in the gut. A lightning bolt nearly kills someone.
[Spoiler Warning] Near the end of the movie, Thomas declares his ambition to kill WCKD's lead doctor, Ava Page. "I'd like some revenge," one of his cohorts says, presumably foreshadowing the next movie.
Crude or Profane Language
About 15 s-words. Desert variety profanities include "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "d--n," "h---" and "bloody." Thomas makes an obscene gesture. God's and Jesus' names are each abused three or four times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
To gain entry to the "pit of iniquity" mentioned above, Brenda and Thomas are forced to drink an unnamed but clearly intoxicating liquid. Under its influence, their judgment is impaired, and Thomas eventually is left crawling on the floor.
Drugs designed to stop the progression of the Flare are also administered.
Other Negative Elements
A boy vomits up a black substance.
The Maze Runner series feels like the little brother of YA-lit-themed movies. It does not boast a stable of important, Oscar-winning actors like The Hunger Games or Divergent series do. (The biggest name here might be Giancarlo Esposito, who earned his acting stripes in AMC's Breaking Bad.) It's not expected to break box office records. (Though the first movie did crack $100 million in North America.) It has the vibe of a "me-too" studio afterthought—a way 20th Century Fox could join the YA party and collect a little extra cash.
The makers of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials have, it seems, largely abandoned the source material and, in its place, have created something of a narrative mess—an overlong frenetic freefall of a film that, for all its action, feels surprisingly bereft of drama. Outside Thomas and Teresa, most of the characters feel strangely interchangeable, and they aren't given much to do other than follow Thomas' lead. The flick is so filled with stock battle scenes and inexplicable lightning storms that there really isn't much time to get to know anyone, much less allow the movie's underlying themes to breathe a bit.
That's too bad. Dystopian stories, whatever their inherent weaknesses, allow storytellers to ponder society's core sense of morality: When civilization crumbles, what's left? What do we value? What's important? This story feints in those directions at times, but for the most part such concepts are all gobbled up by what the movie really wants to focus on: What's gonna blow up next?
It's not unusual for popcorn munchers like this to concentrate more on whiz-bang than cinematic philosophy, of course. That's why they're called popcorn munchers. But given that the whiz-bang here is so violent, and the foul language between (and during) action sequences so scorching (especially for a kid's flick), while watching it I started to suspect that maybe WCKD had been messing around with things yet again.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Dylan O'Brien as Thomas; Kaya Scodelario as Teresa; Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt; Aidan Gillen as Janson; Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige; Ki Hong Lee as Minho; Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge; Barry Pepper as Vince; Rosa Salazar as Brenda; Jacob Lofland as Aris; Dexter Darden as Frypan
Wes Ball ( The Maze Runner)
20th Century Fox
September 18, 2015
December 15, 2015