The Scorch Trials Is a Long, Boring, Kid-Friendly Episode of The Walking Dead

Friday, 18 September 2015 - 10:29AM
The Maze Runner
Scorch Trials
Friday, 18 September 2015 - 10:29AM
The Scorch Trials Is a Long, Boring, Kid-Friendly Episode of The Walking Dead
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials predictably has middle child syndrome, complete with an identity crisis. It's a genre mash-up, but not in a good way; rather than blending elements of different genres to create an original premise, The Scorch Trials simply changes its mind about which genre to rip off approximately every forty minutes. Ultimately, it feels like three different movies, and after a whopping 131-minute runtime, none of them were especially worth watching.

Spoilers throughout, if you haven't read the books!



The first act sees the former Gladers arrive in an ostensible sanctuary, in which they are given beds to sleep on, clean clothes, and three meals a day. Everyone but Thomas (because he's apparently the only one who can boast a brain cell or two) is all-too-ready to accept that the vaguely medical facility is benevolent, but a new ally shows Thomas that his misgivings are justified, and together they discover that the facility is a part of WCKD and plans to horrifyingly harvest their bodies for a cure to the plague that has ravaged the outside world.

It actually would have been interesting to watch the Gladers slowly come to the realization that the facility has ill intentions, and that in this post-apocalyptic world, no one can be trusted; the bare bones of the plot reminded me of the Mount Weather arc on The 100. But unfortunately, it's so glaringly obvious that they're evil, there's absolutely no dramatic tension, and the entire storyline unfolds with a nagging sense of inevitability. Of course the head of the facility (played by Game of Thrones's Aidan Gillen, clearly) says Thomas can "trust him" with a visible sneer. Of course the guards tell him that Teresa is fine, but ominously block him from seeing her. Of course Thomas is the only one who has enough common sense to see through the friendly facade, even when they start taking kids away to "go to a farm." (I mean, really? Did none of these kids ever have pets?) Of course Thomas easily sneaks into the top-secret chamber of the high-security facility and overhears the villain's entire evil plan, and then manages to save Teresa and escape in spite of not having any kind of plan. Of course.

Then, true to the name, the kids spend the rest of the movie running, mostly from the Cranks, who are afflicted with the virus that addles the brain and causes the body to rot. We might as well just call it the walker virus, because the middle portion of the film is like watching an extra-long, particularly boring episode of The Walking Dead. The kids run into Cranks, they run, they run into more Cranks, they run, they find shelter with other humans only to be betrayed and strung up like cuts of meat. It's literally The Walking Dead, from the aesthetics of the Cranks to the "trust no one" mentality to the perfunctory death of extraneous characters in order to demonstrate the effects of the zombie virus. (Maybe we were supposed to care about Winston, but I barely even knew he was there before he started to zombify.)

And to the movie's credit (or, more accurately, to Wes Ball's credit), this part of the film was probably as scary and as adult as this material possibly could have been. The Cranks were unsettling, although not as scary as walkers, and a few scenes were legitimately dark, especially one particularly gruesome moment involving a live rat. And the chase scenes were well-filmed and frenetic, leading many to characterize the film as a kind of teenage Mad Max: Fury Road.

But unfortunately, The Scorch Trials doesn't replicate the most important strengths of either of those works. I wasn't as big a fan of Mad Max as everyone else, but I can still appreciate the sheer energy, even joy, in the proceedings. Scorch Trials was relentlessly depressing, which should draw favorable comparisons to The Walking Dead, but unlike TWD, it was lacking in any sense of moral ambiguity, so none of the death or sadness seemed to have any weight. While the horror aesthetic, the swearing, and the relative lack of sentiment gave The Scorch Trials all the appearances of an adult movie, it was just as philosophically simplistic as any "good versus bad" children's story.

The final act plays out like a typical dystopian YA adventure, in which Thomas and his friends have a dramatic confrontation with the evil government organization that wants to bleed them dry. Thomas discovers that his friend and love interest, Teresa, has betrayed him (a revelation which was already anticlimactic, as it was telegraphed from the start) because she believes in WCKD's "ends justify the means" philosophy, and is willing to sacrifice a relatively small number of lives in order to cure a plague that brings suffering and death to millions (billions?).

This should have been a morally problematic moment on both sides, but it wasn't. Teresa was painted as a disloyal "company woman," the kids are noble and stalwart, and the adults are sadistically evil bureaucrats who claim that they're trying to save the world even as they blatantly kill people for sport. Teresa's disturbing monologue about her mother's suffering from the Flare should have introduced moral ambiguity into the proceedings, but it never ceased to be a good versus evil narrative. The villains are still the villains through and through, if only because it's right there in the name (seriously, James Dashner, who calls a villainous organization WICKED??). Scorch Trials may have had all of the zombie gore of a typical Walking Dead episode, but it couldn't even begin to approximate the black heart at its core.
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Scorch Trials