The Scorch Trials (dir. Wes Ball)

Posted: September 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

“The Scorch Trials” is tasked with building on the mythology that was shoehorned into the last 10 minutes of “The Maze Runner”.  That mythology is not very original, involving some sort of apocalyptic event making the world semi-inhabitable and releasing a virus that turns people into zombies.  This is basically “28 Days Later” meets “Mad Max”, but for teens.  For some reason, a large number (but not all) of kids and teens are immune to the zombie disease, and a really poorly named government agency (World Catastrophe Killzone Department, which is called WCKD and hopefully the bureaucrat who came up with that was killed by that zombie virus) seems to be testing these kids for…some reason…by putting them in isolated areas that have mazes near them.  This new film takes place after the kids have broken out of their maze and are brought to a facility that is supposedly run by insurgents fighting against WCKD but are actually WCKD.

“The Maze Runner” was a decent little film, and “The Scorch Trials” is similarly decent.  The mythology is not original, the characters are paper thin, and the holes in logic are plentiful, but individual scenes work enough to make the film an enjoyable piece of unoriginal nonsense.  Our main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), finds out fairly quickly that their “saviors” are just WCKD and they plan to harvest the teens in an attempt to find a cure for the zombie virus.  WCKD seems to have a just goal, as they seem to be a mix of doctor and military officials who have the goal of curing this virus and saving humanity (at least saving them from the virus, the world becoming less inhabitable they don’t seem to even want to try and take on), but their methods are unnecessarily ruthless.  After all, why go around kidnapping kids, putting them in mazes, killing other people, and harvesting kids.  A lot of this is completely unnecessary.  They could just force the kids to undergo some basic, barely invasive blood tests and fluid extractions (a brain enzyme, or something) under penalty of prison.  That’s it.  They don’t need to keep playing these elaborate charades and lies, especially because WCKD is a fairly inept organization.  Why put the teens in cells if you’re going to make human-sized openings to vents that are capable of supporting the weight of multiple teen boys comfortably, thus making your prison the most easily escapable in recent film history?  What good is having a huge military apparatus in nifty body armor (with their acronym on the arm, because you might confuse them for ANOTHER heavily armored organization existing in this somewhat post-apocalyptic world) if they can’t successfully subdue a few teens, only one of whom is armed at the time of the prison break?

The film has many gaps in logic, but not having read the source novels, I don’t know which are the fault of the film itself and which are inherited from the books.  If the zombies are just infected persons, why don’t more succumb to the harsh elements of the desert outsides, which are called “The Scorch”.  If there is land up in the mountains that are more inhabitable, why does ANYONE live in the desert?  Why aren’t WCKDs bases built in this much more inhabitable area?  Why did sand make a desert out of San Francisco, but roads just outside of the city are still visible and drivable?  How is it that enough non-infected adults are able to live outside of a WCKD base, to the entext that they set up shanty towns, marketplaces, and emo/goth raves?  How are they making alcoholic beverages is water is scarce?  Where are they getting the water?  This film is full of questions that only go to show how poorly thought out the world is.

So if we have a story based on mythology that is tenuously put together, and two-dimensional characters, why bother to see this film?  Well, it has its moments. Giancarlo Esposito seems to have fun as a desert Capitalist who wants a better life for himself and his adopted daughter (Rosa Salazar).  There’s a scene in the concrete tunnels below the city that features some cool vine-infested CGI zombies that are genuinely creepy and miles better than the PG-13 CGI zombies of “World War Z”. The CGI shots of the ruined city are blended much better than similar establishing CGI shots of recent big budget films.  A scene in an inexplicable rave with heavily made up teens (how does one find mascara and eyeliner in the apocalypse?) makes good use of slow motion and claustrophobic tight shots.

“The Scorch Trials” cannot be called a good movie by any reasonable rubric, but it’s fun and silly and it looks good.  It’s perhaps 20 minutes too long, and it’s of slightly lower quality than “The Maze Runner”, but it’s a fun little film, and finding the hundreds of logical holes in the premise ends up being a fun secondary game to play while watching. C+

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