Scorch Trials follows in the current pattern of young adult fiction that just tries to be every story every. It is adolescent in every way: Not adult enough to do justice to its plot, but too worried about being sufficiently dark to really be fun and empowering.
A bunch of this movie is a zombie flick, but without the ability to go all the way with the gore, none of that has any impact. Specifically there is a scene that should have been as violent and chilling as the most memorable scenes from Day and Shaun of the Dead. Instead the character just gets away with some scratches. The core of the problem though isn’t that he walks away, it’s that the movie creates a scenario that instantly calls to mind those more violent scenes. It’s not just that the cinematic language is being taken from better movies, it’s how weak the execution of it is here, even in a vacuum.
The movie is at its best in the few moments where the kids are allowed to play off each other and have fun. Those moments are just too few and far between. It’s not like the movie doesn’t allow the audience time to breathe, it’s that down time is generally spent with everyone being sad grumps. There’s a scene where a character is left behind with a gun so that he can shoot himself in the head rather than become a zombie. It works, but it’s such a downer in a movie that should have been more fun.
This movie is structured like a video game. Just replace cover based shooting with running away. You hop from one set piece event to the next. But its set pieces are generally not that interesting, and basically in all cases made me think of some other movie that made this setting look more interesting. (Including Jurassic Park 2) The final act of the movie basically takes place in a quarry, where they could have filmed a Power Rangers fight sequence. It’s so generic and boring it feels like a letdown, even in a movie that’s pretty boring with its locations. The abandoned city stands out the most, with the desert coming in second, but that’s just the movie’s way of getting us from an underground bunker to a warehouse. The most visually interesting environments could have been easily cut out of the movie as they’re of minimal importance to the plot honestly.
Dylan O’Brien plays the lead character Thomas, and he continues to be the most boring protagonist imaginable. He’s just constantly running into places with utter disaster right at his tail. He’s not terrible, but he’s such a non-presence in a movie that has a huge charisma problem.
I can imagine a world where they could have made a Maze Runner movie series I really enjoyed, but this isn’t it. This movie is fine, but it makes me think of so many better movies I could have been watching, and I can easily think of many ways it could have been better.