As my kids and I watched the second act of the Maze Runner trilogy, The Scorch Trials, I found myself thinking, “Too bad those kids don’t have Fitbits. They probably get their 10,000 steps by breakfast.”
The tempo and the chase are The Maze Runner‘s greatest friends. Whether it’s balancing on a steel i-beam in a run-down factory while a heavily armed WCKD strike team is breathing down their necks or charging up the remains of a tipped-over skyscraper with blood-thirsty Cranks hot on their heals, director Wes Ball utilizes interesting settings and a cast with seemingly unending stamina effectively.
However, the action can’t cover all that ails the film. One thing that hurts The Scorch Trials is a lack of mystery. Sure, we still don’t know everything – although, by the end, we have a much more complete picture of the situation – but just knowing who WCKD is and their agenda, seeing the Cranks, it takes a little wind out of the sails. The beauty of the first Maze Runner flick lie in part in the overwhelming lack of information about the kids’ backgrounds, why they were where they were and what exactly was going on in the maze. Having faces and names to put with our fears reduces the tension for the viewer, and no amount of running makes up for that.
And while I’m sure Dylan O’Brien – the actor who portrays hero Thomas – is a nice guy, loves his mom and takes in puppies from shelters, his Thomas – the main character – is the least interesting character in the film, in part because of the material, in part because of O’Brien. The majority of the blame should go on the writing. I haven’t read the books, so I’m not sure they share the responsibility, but screenwriter T.S. Nowlin gives O’Brien little to work with. This kid is supposed to be the leader, the savior, which would be fine except I don’t think yelling, “Go, go, go, GO, GO, GO!” over and over again counts as leadership. Thomas’s bravery is never in question, but his decision-making is appalling. Case in point: When entering an unknown settlement with new pal Brenda, Thomas is told to try to blend in. To me that means keep your head on a swivel, nod when the locals make eye contact, look but don’t talk, that sort of thing. To Thomas, that means walking up to the first absolutely blitzed dude he can find (played to the hilt by Firefly veteran Alan Tudyk) in the shadiest hangout in town and start asking very probing questions really loudly. Absolutely awful. It reminded me of Andy Samberg’s Parks & Recreation character, Carl Lorthner. Only Thomas’s actions weren’t a joke. At least they weren’t supposed to be. Unfortunately, while that might be the most egregious act of stupidity Scorch Trials, it isn’t the only one.
O’Brien’s not a guy who elevates the material, either. He doesn’t hold his own against vets like Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile, 6 Feet Under) and Aiden Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones). It’s hard to tell if Gillen’s Janson is smirking because he thinks he’s smarter than the kids from the maze or he’s trying not to laugh when O’Brien emotes. O’Brien doesn’t fare well against his fellow young actors, either. I’d follow Minho (Ki Hong Lee) before I’d follow Thomas. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) ends up probably being the most interesting character in the film, and Scodelario really handles the subtlety of her role well. Unfortunately, we get little from that character despite her importance.
After two, I’m not that anxious to see the third in the Maze Runner series. I feel like I know most of what I need to know now as far as what is being done to the maze runner kids and why, and I’m betting the third flick, The Death Cure, is going to be even more hammy and ham-fisted than the Scorch Trials. Soft pass.