The Bock’s Office: ‘Scorch’ a trial of a sequel to watch
September 24, 2015
The heat is always on to create the next big thing in young adult action films. Unfortunately, in the case of "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials," that thermal overload proves too much pressure. Out of the frying pan, as they say…
If you go…
"Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials," rated PG-13
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Running time: 131 minutes
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee.
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No sooner have Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his acquaintances been rescued from the mysterious place known as The Glade than they find themselves under lock and key again, now within a seemingly safe military facility the leader of which (Aidan Gillen) assures them they're protected.
Thomas, however, is certain he and his friends are in more danger than ever, and exploration of their new surroundings with a boy (Jacob Lofland) who shares his suspicions leads him to enact a daring escape with companions Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and the rest of the former Gladers.
But, they may have been better off where they were, as the group learns once they are lost in the Scorch, a desert wasteland that has overtaken the world that once was and is full of plenty more horrors.
If nothing else, O'Brien lets us see both the good and bad parts of Thomas — the kid has unquestionable leadership abilities but like so many who are in charge of others too often makes rash decisions with drastic outcomes.
To his credit, it's not much of a choice between serving as a guinea pig or dying in a sand pile — when you overhear someone use words like "subject" and "harvest" while referring to you, the smart bet is to run.
Still, that doesn't mean his friends trust him unconditionally, with the quippy Newt and cautious Teresa especially skeptical, feelings that don't waver the further out they venture into brutal nothingness that's only made worse by Cranks, ambulatory victims of a virus that got everyone into this mess.
And, while Gillan's Mr. Janson and his scientist superior (Patricia Clarkson) may be on the way to getting civilization back on track, it's not hard for our heroes to put more faith into survivors Jorge and Brenda (Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar).
Even Marcus (Alan Tudyk), a hedonistic overseer of a non-stop rave in a hollowed-out city, inspires more trust. Just don't drink from his flask.
The minimal suspense that was created in the dark corridors of "The Maze Runner" is utilized more successfully in the new movie, though it's probably the mildest zombie feature you'll ever see. Points are earned for setting our group's first encounter with the Cranks in a shopping mall in a surprising homage to "Dawn of the Dead," but these gruesome creatures are just a drop in the bucket of reanimated monsters these days, from "I Am Legend" to "World War Z" to "The Walking Dead" and the multitude that came before those.
The characters aren't much better developed than they were the first time, and the more background we get on this post-apocalyptic tale the more we need to know who the players are. The narrative of James Dashner's book series isn't a bad one, but what needs to be said isn't, and the moral that the children are our future could be much better conveyed than just stating it outright again and again.
By the way, calling an ethically ambiguous organization by an acronym pronounced "wicked" doesn't leave much to the imagination.
"The Scorch Trials" may be more thrilling and expansive than the film that came before it, but its overlength and weak script — significantly retooled from the original book — fry any chance it has of being anything beyond an average teen flick. Dare we hope that a third entry called "The Death Cure" finally get things going?