Photos Courtesy of Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP – 20th Century Fox
Once upon a time, "The Hunger Games" and "The Walking Dead" had a baby called "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials." In the sequel to last summer’s "The Maze Runner," the post-apocalyptic Lost Boys have escaped The Maze and are still on the run from W.C.K.D, an evil corporation that wants to harvest their blood to find a cure to a zombie-like disease called The Flare. Based off of the books written by James Dashner, this young adult science fiction adventure is chock-full of action sequences and strong cameos to balance out the fresh cast. The screenplay, written by T.S. Nowlin, has a surprising lack of the usual tropes for the genre, although it still clearly caters to the pre-teen age demographic. Directed by Wes Ball, who’s directorial debut was the first installment; round two is a fun, action-filled, albeit slightly shallow film experience.
Our story opens with the kids having been rescued from The Maze, only to land themselves in a military compound under the control of Janson, as played by Aiden Gillen. Best known as Little Finger in "Game of Thrones," Gillen brings that same duplicitous energy to the role. Let’s be real: if you find yourself in a military compound and the only person nice to you is Little Finger, you should probably find a way out. Our hero-in-training, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), discovers there is a dangerous secret with the help of new friend Aris (Jacob Lofland). The gang includes Newt (Thomas Brodie Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Frypan (Dexter Darden), Winston (Alexander Flores) and the only girl in their group, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). The Lost Boys and their ‘Wendy’ set out into the desert which surrounds the compound. Fighting for their survival in terrifying conditions and battling flesh eating zombies, they attempt to find a rebel organization in the mountains. The shots of them crossing the post-apocalyptic wasteland are pretty cool. And really, what would a zombie filled apocalypse be without a heart pumping scene racing through a shopping mall?
After surviving the harsh environment, the group find themselves face- to-face with Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), a crime boss in this desolate world. Best known as Gus Fring in "Breaking Bad," Esposito has such an easy ability to convey ruthlessness peppered with loyalty to those he cares for. Essentially, he’s the perfect crime boss. After meeting the kids, he agrees to aid them in finding the separatist movement in the mountains. He has an epic way to close his crime ring, and fans will recognize his swan song from another pre-teen hit, "Pretty Little Liars." In their escape, Jorge’s companion Brenda (Rosa Salazar) is bitten by one of the zombies, but they continue on and bring her to the separatists.
Once united, we finally learn more about what makes our survivors so special and why their blood is different, but that’s quickly squelched when W.C.K.D finds the rag tag army. Thomas has befriended Mary (Lili Taylor), a doctor that was trying to find a cure with W.C.K.D. before realizing their ruthless methods. The battle that ensues is nothing less than epic. Imagine, Barry Pepper taking down the establishment with a truck-mounted automatic weapon. It's pure entertainment.
Of course, the conclusion of the film sets the stage for the trilogy, in which they will take on Ava Paige, the doctor behind W.C.K.D. Played by Patricia Clarkson, Paige is a cold-hearted blend of Kate Winslet in "Divergent" and President Snow in "The Hunger Games." She wears all white and is driven by her desire to find the cure, no matter what. She’s a bit of a stale villain, but it seems to be the norm for the dystopian pre-teen set.
Overall, Scorch Trials is an entertaining movie. The supporting cast of well-established actors rounds out the piece and lends credibility to the younger, less seasoned cast. Alan Tudyk from "Firefly" has a cameo in a drugged up dance party that makes you feel like you need a shower, and of course, Barry Pepper nails the crazed survivalist role. These smaller supporting characters are what ultimately drive the story and keep you intrigued. Though Scodelario and O’Brien have grown into their roles of Thomas and Teresa, it’s the oomph provided by the older cast members that really set the tone; convincing the audience how horrible this post-apocalyptic world is and what people are willing to do to survive. The action sequences are engaging and the sets are epic, building a world where the script might be lacking. So if dystopian pre-teen stories are your thing, check out "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."
By Lauren Steffany
Running Time: 2h 12m
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language