In 1948 the world ended when the United States dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima, and since then American culture has developed a post-apocalyptic narrative that permeates our pop culture. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the latest in a long run of these narratives, continues the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) post-maze as the rag tag group resumes their quest to determine the motivation behind the World Catastrophe Killzone Division (WCKD), the big baddie of the trilogy. While this film feels like it’s in the vein of other middle trilogy films like Two Towers, The Scorch Trials is actually better than Maze Runner (2014) in that there’s a plot.
Director Alan Ball, whose first feature length film was Maze Runner, gives these characters room to breathe. They were “rescued” by a nefarious group who early on in the film is identified as part of WCKD. They escape across the barren wasteland ala Mad Max. The gorgeous set design (imagine the Golden Gate Bridge buried mostly in sand) brings a fresh element to the tiring post-apocalyptic tropes of post-1950 film history.
Oftentimes these end of the world stories are banal, albeit The Scorch Trials breathes fresh life into this tired tale with the inclusion of Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper, and Lili Taylor who are cast as this ambiguous leadership vying for control of the barren world and the hope for the future. Esposito who performed so well in the television series “Revolution” continues to build his bad ass, badlands chops in this film. Always a pleasure to watch, Esposito easily commands an audience with a single raised eyebrow. Pepper and Taylor’s relationship as the resistance leaders hints that there’s more to the good fight than what meets the eye. In their brief screen time with Esposito and the others it is clear that the filmmakers were attempting to infuse an average film with some talent.
While there are several other runners and “lost boys” with their torn clothes and complex loyalties, two stand out. Rosa Salazar and Ki Hong Lee both shine in this film as O’Brien’s friends and confidantes in one way or another. Salazar plays Esposito’s daughter with whom O’Brien could’ve easily developed an interesting relationship if Ball and the writers had allowed it.
The Scorch Trials reminded me of several films including the Insurgent Series and The Hunger Games, but unlike the first film I was surprised that this one was tolerable. While the post-apocalytpic tropes are relatively boring and worn out, compared to the first film this is a step in the right direction. We can only hope there’s audience left by the time the filmmakers round out the trilogy.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials:[usr 2.75]
About Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
Synopsis: The sequel to Maze Runner finds Thomas and the other Gladers fighting for the lives in a scorched land as they search for answers.
Directors: Alan Bell
Writers: T.S. Nowling (screenplay), James Nashner (novel)
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar
Runtime: 132 Minutes