Movie Review - Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
By Ben Gruchow
September 22, 2015
There is the nugget of an interesting idea here again. Just like the first movie had the potential to explore social roles and peer pressure, this one has the opportunity to investigate the mindset of an antagonist who’s only the antagonist because of a certain point of view. That possibility only really shows up at the very end, though, and it’s glossed over. The final scenes are horrendous; in the space of only a few lines, it manages to nullify all that was remotely thorny and complex about the motivations of any character involved.
That overall goal is to reach something called the Right Arm; who or what this organization is or does is never clearly delineated, except for a general consensus that they’re the good guys. The crux of the conflict in this universe appears to hinge on one group’s pursuit to find a cure at the expense of any humanitarianism, and another group’s attempt to sabotage their abuse of power. This is a concept very fuzzily expressed, and you could almost look at the rapid change-outs of the supporting cast and each new vignette as an attempt to restart the story’s engine and establish some actual stakes. This is an impression not reassured by a quick glance at the source novel, which the film is a radical departure from - fundamentally different in incident and character motivation, if not in tone.
There’s visible effort expended here to make this material resonate onscreen, and the new direction of the story does at least expand the scope of the thing. As if to counterweight this, though, the movie’s sense of period is even screwier than it was the first time around, when the wardrobe choices made it seem like the movie’s costume designer had $300 and a couple of hours in a discount clothing store to pull together the entire movie’s outfits. Here, it’s even more spurious: with the combination of the clothing, the vehicles, and the thoroughly-contemporary vernacular by the characters, there’s no reason to believe that the movie is taking place in any year except 2015 - a bombed-out alternate-reality 2015, sure, but still the present day.
One of the core components of any successful fantasy series is good internal reliability and consistency, as well as a sense of real consequence: the shakier the concept, the more inconsequential the result. Harry Potter and The Hunger Games pass this test, even if both properties do require a couple of small leaps of faith (when, exactly, do Hogwarts students learn about math or economics or composition?); Divergent does not, and Twilight exists somewhere in its own abstract phase of existence where everyone operates at the level of a hormonal teenager anyway. The Maze Runner occupies an uneasy halfway point: the decimation of population by solar flare and disease, and the scientific pursuit of a cure to that disease, is a suitable foundation to build your story on. But there’s no real building going on here, just random exposition and orientation and reversals, bookending occasionally impressive but ultimately arbitrary action sequences. Navigating through this world is like playing in a sandbox set below tideline.