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The obvious trouble with book-to-film adaptations is that there can be many aspects that get lost in translation, which is often the primary reason that adaptations can fail with audiences. Even for people who have not read the source material on which the film is based, things can seem off. Some part of the story can feel as if it is missing, some major piece altered for the greater good of the film version of the story, which is necessary, but audiences can sense when something is flat. The trick is making source material sacrifices that do not jeopardize the integrity of the story being put to film. Not an easy thing to do, but this, unfortunately, is what happens here with The Scorch Trials.
Picking up not very long after the original left off, this film finds Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers from the Maze having been picked up and rushed to a secure facility in an attempt to escape an unseen threat. While at this facility, Thomas is given a warm bed, food and shelter as he and his friends wait to be called on to go to a place of peace and security. However, very quickly Thomas begins to suspect that there is more than is being told to him and his fellow Immunes. He soon finds, thanks to the help of a mysterious boy, that things are worse than he could imagine and that W.C.K.D. (or WICKED) is behind it all again. Now the former Maze Runner sets off on a journey beyond, where the running continues into the unknown dangers of the Scorch.
We come to it again, the second act area in a trilogy. We all know the work a second act has cut out for it, especially for second acts with successful first act stories. To be fair, last year’s The Maze Runner, our review for which you can catch here, was not the knockout success that a handful of other YA adaptations were. So, the bar was not necessarily astronomical for The Scorch Trials, but The Maze Runner was nevertheless a strong entry. It was a unique take on the YA futuristic, post-apocalyptical genre. If The Scorch Trials could have at least matched the level of the original, that would have been fine. However, there were a bit too many plot holes and inconsistencies this time around that were such that, it was clear things were missing and ignored from the book that ended up hurting the film experience.
The ball gets rolling straight away and does not let up until the credits roll. This is both a good thing and an annoying thing. Things move along almost so quickly that there is not enough room to take in what is happening or to make sense of why. For instance, there is not any suggestion or indication that a lonely, mysterious boy in a hoodie named Aris (Jacob Lofland) would want to align himself with Thomas, who he does not know and choose to help him uncover the secret of where the chosen Immunes actually go when they leave the facility. The plot requires them to get acquainted and we get it in an unbelievable way.
Some of the dialogue and moments of comic relief are worthy of more than one session of eye-rolls and the romantic subplot between Thomas and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) feels unnatural here. Speaking of, as in the original film, she is given almost nothing to do except be around for Thomas to be concerned for her well-being, which is disappointing. Dylan O’Brien is convincing enough as the straight-laced Thomas, but unfortunately the script does not allow for him to go beyond the clichéd lone-savior role, which he embodies throughout the film. Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt is a strong presence throughout and turns in another fine performance.
Newcomers to the series, Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar, bring freshness and conviction to their respective roles as Jorge and Brenda. Esposito is another fine actor and does the best he can with such a limited space to occupy as the father figure, but the script almost makes him go over-the-top, which he thankfully fights against to provide a rich performance, even if it is a brief one. Rosa Salazar is also very strong as Brenda, the tough-as-nails Ellen Ripley type and her presence is a welcome one.
However clichéd and jumbled The Scorch Trials feels at times, its action sequences are probably the film’s strongest asset next to Giancarlo Esposito. Each and every chase scene is exhilarating and sufficiently lengthy; the next one more thrilling than the last. The new threats are in many ways scarier than anything that could be found in the Maze and the set pieces are much darker, providing a more ominous feel and adding to the already palpable tension. The visuals should also be given some credit for being fully realized and properly post-apocalyptic. A damaged Brooklyn Bridge above mounds of desert sand that go on for miles and many decaying buildings are striking and do much to display just how bad a state the world is in.
The aforementioned treats to be found in The Scorch Trials are not enough to raise it above the merely “okay” bunch of YA novel adaptations. Sure, The Maze Runner was a strong effort. The Scorch Trials was supposed to be stronger. While it does fulfill the qualifications that the second act should carry more emotional resonance in terms of where things end, and it manages to expand upon the world established previously, its execution leaves something to be desired.