In a market overflown with remakes, adaptations and sequels, the young adult genre has no problem thriving as a successful financial business. It doesn’t really matter how good the movies are, as long as they cater to the teenage target group and stay relatively faithful to the source material. Twilight, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures, Percy Jackson, I Am Number Four. The list of sewage goes on and on. Though there are a few YA novels that have made a graceful transition from page to screen, such as The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and most recently The Maze Runner franchise. Wes Ball’s 2014 big-budget debut was a surprisingly suspenseful, intense and intriguing jigsaw puzzle with grounded characters and a thoroughly engaging story. The expectations for an even better sequel were relatively high. Unfortunately, The Scorch Trials fails to take the series to the next level.
The film picks up right where the original left off, with Thomas and the other Gladers now having escaped the maze, only to find out that the world outside has gone down the drain. The planet lies in ruins, covered in dry desert sand and plagued by uncontrollable weather conditions. A strange disease has wiped out most of humanity, leaving few survivors to roam under an overheated sun, fighting for scraps and running from infected people known as Cranks. Our heroes of course have to deal with these shocking circumstances and make their way across the desolate wasteland to join a resistance army hellbent on taking down WICKED once and for all.
Normally I would try my best to avoid drawing comparisons between the book and the movie, simply because I don’t feel like it would be fair to the film. After all, there is no way you can possibly cram 300 + pages into a 2 hour blockbuster. However, in the case of The Scorch Trials, I’m gonna make an exception to that rule. Why? Because not only does it differ so much from James Dashner’s novel, that it almost feels like the filmmakers didn’t even bother to read it in the first place. It also literally ruins the mythology of the universe, to the point where fans will be ripping out locks of hair just to keep themselves from leaving. I’m all in for changing things up, if it makes sense in the context of the story. Some things just don’t translate that well from paper to screen, I totally get that. The problem here is that The Maze Runner trilogy is such a complex philosophical allegory, and the average moviegoer don’t want that. Or at least that’s what Hollywood thinks. And so instead of focusing on the key qualities that made the book so riveting to read, like the character dynamics and the mystery elements, they give us a safe-zone treadmill-routine with lots of running, screaming and visually chaotic action sequences that are so incoherent it hurts.
But it’s not just the fans that will be scratching their heads. Even those who come in cold will feel confused and dizzy from the quick pacing and pointless exposition. What made the first movie so great was the simplicity of the story. Where are we? Who are we? Where do we come from, and what is our purpose in life? None of these questions were ever answered, but that was okay. It kept us guessing. We were able to follow the characters and relate to them. We didn’t know any more or any less than they did, and that made it so much more exciting to see how things were going to pan out for them. The sequel, as it turns out, doesn’t care about that emotional connection and personal attachment. They just shove a spoonful of pre-packaged information down our throats and expects us to understand everything. But we don’t. It’s far too convoluted to even begin to comprehend. What’s even worse is that none of the revelations are very interesting. They are in the book, though. I’m not going to spoil anything, but let’s just say that there is a plot device involving the teenagers’ blood, which completely contradicts the novel and negates the concept of the first film. It’s cringe-worthy to say it the least. Long live laziness and all of his friends.
All that was good has been stripped away from this property; the philosophy, the relationships, the subtlety. It’s all gone. There’s no time for it, because the studio takes us for fools who have no attention span, like a kid on christmas eve that is too busy thinking about that one big presence, he forgets what the holiday is really all about. Granted, the film is competently crafted from a technical standpoint. The world seems fairly credible, the cinematography is for the most part really beautiful, and the lighting is first-class. But that’s just the icing on the cake. In fact, I’d argue they didn’t even have the time to make a cake for us to eat. They were simply too lazy, so they just decided to serve some sugar on a plate. It might taste sweet in the beginning, but the more you eat, the more bitter it gets. This movie is all sugar and no cake. Sure, it does have its moments of intrigue, but whenever the ideas really start to flourish, the studio fertiliser kicks in and makes sure they stay homogenised. Who cares about ideas anyway, right? The filmmakers here have clearly forgotten what made this idea so special to so many young people. The thrill is gone. The brain is dead. The heart has failed. How I wish I could’ve done something to save it, because it deserved so much better than what it got. Please don’t let it discourage you from reading the book. It’s infinitely more intelligent than this dud of a perfunctory pile of YA nonsense.