Movie Reviews: "Maze Runner: Scorch Trials" An Epic Multi-Location Scope Movie

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The second movie in the Maze Runner series did a great job of overcoming its merely meh initial installment, and took on a scope that felt absolutely epic. And whether that's because it doesn't take place in a single location, because they cover a lot of ground, or because this movie introduces a lot of ideas... it worked.

That said, it's not by any means a great movie. There is not a single original idea in The Scorch Trials. You can pick it into pieces, with the Pirates of the Caribbean style 'part of the ship' zombies, the Golden Compass-esque juvenile detainment facility, and shot ripoffs from a handful of films, notably a couple of scenes from Fellowship of the Ring.

But the idea of combining them all in this way is pretty intriguing to me, and having not read the books, and nothing about the first one having told me this was gonna be Hunger Games meets The Walking Dead by way of Firefly, I was taken by surprise by at least a couple of the plot twists.

The first movie is about amnesiac kids locked in a valley where the only way out is a giant maze that changes every night, and has some kind of horrific monsters in it. People attacked by said horrific monsters turn into husks of people—brainless, sure, violent, but I never got the zombie impression from it. And yet movie number two brings us some hardcore 28 Years Later action, with zombies who run and do parkour and sometimes grow into walls.

And it's not a horror movie, despite the zombies. This is a young adult action sci fi film, and even with the couple of jumpscares built into it and the darkness of the story, it never has the haunted house feel, never has the distinct zombie centric flavor that has so overwhelmed a lot of media for the last couple of years.

This movie's about the people trying to find the cure to zombieism, and the resistance that's sprung up out of moral objections to their means. It's about how the small pockets of humanity have adapted, how they survive... and it's about the kids who have grown up in this world, some of whom have developed an immunity to the virus, and the people who are hunting them down to take advantage of it.

I was impressed by a couple of things in this one, first of which was the acting. Super strong, all across the board. It's good to see Dylan O'Brien breaking free of MTV's wolfy claws and doing something a little grander in scope, and I continue to be impressed by his range. As Thomas, he is alternately badass and filled with what some characters go out of their way to point out is a stupid level of empathy.

Aiden Gillen came in pretty early on in the film, and I could not be more delighted to see him, though it felt a lot like I was watching diet Gary Oldman peacocking his way through the movie. It made his performance really fun to watch, and was an interesting close neighbor to his Game of Thrones work, without feeling redundant. Likewise, when Alan Tudyk showed up giving us his best crazed Mark Hamill, I don't think I have ever loved him more. And continuing the theme of actors acting like other actors, I am not familiar with any of Rosa Salazar's other work, but I could not shake the impression of her as a mini-Morena Baccarin. (and she looks the part as well; seriously, someone get on that casting.) 

The other thing that impressed me is something that I suppose comes of being adapted from a book series; the world feels very full, very thought out. And whether that's because I am a sucker for sci-fi/fantasy slang, or because everything does feel like it's connected and has a reason behind it, whether or not it's explained to us or we know it yet or not... it lends to that impression of scope and realism. You can sort of believe that this is how the world would respond to this kind of crisis, questionable acronyms aside.

(Seriously, there had to be a better way of phrasing the idea of 'World Catastrophe Killzone Department' into something less evil sounding than WCKD, pronounced wicked.)

Also interesting to me is the tone of the story, and how pretty much the only female in the first movie, and certainly the lead female here, is being developed. Teresa, played by Kaya Scodelario, is becoming a surprisingly (or maybe not, again, the benefits of book adaptions) rounded and faceted character. She and the hero have a very distinct moral divide, but neither side is being shown as wholly right. She may well be the villain of the next film, and yet her views are written from a stance of sympathy. If they continue along that line with the narrative, to the point of throwing the hero's motives and views into question, I will be tickled pink. Which I suppose means I will absolutely be back for the third installment, with my fingers crossed.