Movie Review: A creative wasteland

Scorch Trials fails to differentiate itself in a crowded genre

While it is not as devoid of merit as “Insurgent,” nor as insufferable and omnipresent as “Twilight” in it’s heyday, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is a microcosm of the problems that have plagued Young Adult film adaptations for the past several years.

The first major problem the film has is that it came out on Sept. 18, one day less than one year after it’s predecessor, “The Maze Runner”, which was released on Sept. 19, 2014. With such a rushed development cycle, the evils of mass production in film have always been a problem, but the YA genre in particular tends toward short development cycles. “The Scorch Trials” pushes this to an absurd extreme.

The first “Maze Runner” film had a great deal of intrigue and narrative intensity, with the characters trapped in a deadly labyrinth and forced to fend for themselves as they tried to escape. The ideas played with in that film were reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies,” and it deserves a great deal of respect for it’s complex characters and narrative. “The Scorch Trials” has none of that, though, opting for an action-packed sequence of events that is light on plot, character, and overall everything that made its predecessor stand out from the pack.

The plot is both generic and bizarre: the survivors of the first film wake up in a military facility, where an evil organization named WCKD is experimenting on them, trying to find a cure for the zombification that has engulfed the world. The kids, led by series protagonist Thomas, escape from the facility and have to survive in the unforgiving wasteland of the Scorch. The plot exists to connect action sequences, and nothing more.

The most annoying part of the story is that the formerly complex and somewhat interesting characters of the first film have next to no development throughout. None of the characters end the movie significantly different from how they began, save for the ones who die.

The acting, as in most YA adaptations, is sub-par at best, criminal at worst. Although “The Scorch Trials” is not as bad as most of it’s contemporaries in this regard—lead Dylan O’Brien does a good job with the character of Thomas—director Wes Ball fails to get standout performances with any of the actors. A lot of the time, the dialogue feels dead, as though it is a placeholder between action scenes.

The directing is as messy as a movie given only a year of development time can be expected to be. Ball is an okay director, if the previous movie was anything to go by, but between a script void of any dramatic potential and hastily cobbled together set piece action sequences filmed over the course of just a few months, he had nothing of substance to work with. The fact that the movie isn’t a complete train wreck and that it looks as good as it does, is a testament to his natural talent. I am interested to see what he can do if he ever branches out of the YA genre.

“The Scorch Trials” is not the worst movie out there, but with its really basic story, lack of character development, unbelievably short development cycle and overall generic and bland taste, it is emblematic of the problems plaguing the YA industry. As studios rush to make money off hot books, they shorten development time, put inexperienced directors opposite bland actors, cobble together unfinished scripts and shove out a movie every year. More than a movie, “The Scorch Trials” is a damning meta-critique of the industry in how bad and uninteresting it is.     Final score: 45/100

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