The repetitive nature of these dystopian teen fantasies is starting to numb my ability to react to their horrors. Authority is to be questioned because well-meaning grown-ups seeking total control of society have ruined it instead. It’s all fitting for a post-9/11 America still grappling with the Patriot Act, a phone-tap happy National Security Administration and the ever persistent feeling that the fear of the other is driving us to give up our freedoms. It all plays very nicely into “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and the latest chapter in the “Maze Runner” series, “The Scorch Trials.”
We start shortly after where we left our heroes in the first movie. They had just escaped the maze, a harrowing moving labyrinth with murderous creatures inside, to find out it had all been a test run by the organization W.C.K.D. (pronounced “wicked”) trying to find a cure for a zombie-creating plague. The group of guys and token girl are adjusting to new life with their rescuers when Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) discovers their saviors may actually be their old captors.
— The Scorch Trials (@MazeRunnerMovie) September 16, 2015
The kids at the heart of the story lack the strong loner girl motif of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” and the emphasis is on teamwork with nobody left behind. And while we’re reunited with the diverse male cast that made “The Maze Runner” refreshing, unfortunately its sequel pares the group down quite a bit. This may be purposefully made and marketed as the boy version of the YA dystopian novel, but they include another girl, Brenda (Rosa Salazar), into the mix as both ally and potential rival for Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). Is Thomas the only one allowed a relationship dynamic with someone? Even Hogwarts sported more than a few crushes and broken hearts alike.
Dropping the motif of a standardized test like the Maze, the Hunger Games or whatever mind they put Tris through in “Divergent,” actually works to “The Scorch Trials” advantage. Unlike the second “Hunger Games” movie, which largely felt like retread, the latest “Maze Runner” opens up its world and actually contextualizes the motive behind the bad guys. Even better, it creates a “Walking Dead”–like scenario where other fringe groups exist, but whether or not to trust them is another source of paranoia.
Audiences are introduced to the superfast blood-thirsty zombie-like creatures that now inhabit the surface world “scorched by the sun.” Of course, it’s a zombie virus that’s quickly wiping out the human race, so it’s up to evil scientists to find the cure that lies in the Gladers’ immune system. In their effort to save humanity, W.C.K.D. is cannibalizing its own.
Director Wes Ball made the jump from short film director to helming his first YA franchise in rather short succession. And while not all the pacing issues of the first movie were rectified, “The Scorch Trials” moves along nicely among the seemingly unending lines of exposition. Ball has also added some layers of subtly that did not exist in the first movie. This keeps the audience in suspenseful limbo second-guessing how the tropes will play out when mixed together.
With the final chapter of “The Huger Games” a few months away and the next “Divergent” sequel also nearing its end, is there a chance that audiences will grow out of these movies? Will they be a source of nostalgia in a few short years down the road? The question for the “Maze Runner,” is whether it will it will be remembered as its own success or will it full under the shadow of the bigger titles in the genre.
“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” opens in theaters Sept. 18.