Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Giancarlo Esposito, Ki Hong Lee, Rosa Salazar, Lili Taylor, Nathalie Emmanuelle, Alan Tudyk with Aidan Gillian and Patricia Clarkson
Plot: After escaping the Maze, the survivors find themselves in a secure facility, but Thomas (O’Brien) begins to suspect they have left the frying pan and jumped right into the fire…
Out of all of the young adult novels to hit the big screen, Maze Runner is becoming my favourite (sorry, Hunger Games!). There is just something so brazen about it, so uncensored. There are all of these moments where you don’t expect them to take a scene to a place they do. For example, the scene where a ten-year old boy was butchered by a mutant robot spider was something ultraviolent directors would shudder at doing, but Wes Ball was perfectly happy putting into a ‘young adult’ movie. It makes Maze Runner unpredictable, relentlessly exciting and dripping with suspense.
Starting with the point of being unpredictable, The Scorch Trials gets off to a fine start on that point by being as far from a re-hash of the first film as possible. Catching Fire was a bigger, better copy of the first Hunger Games, but was a copy nonetheless. Here, the franchise title of Maze Runner is almost entirely defunct. Breaking free of an evil company’s cruel social experiment, Thomas and his friends find salvation with Aidan Gillian’s military force. But when your saviour comes in the form of Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger, you begin to suspect that they are not out of the woods just yet. Sure enough, a conspiracy is uncovered and Thomas breaks a group of teenagers out of their cell and into the apocalyptic world. You would expect the movie to cover this exposition and narrative-building and then settle into something more familiar. Nope. Instead, we get a thrilling quest across a desert landscape where half the population are flesh-craving zombies and the other half are heartless barbarians. As a franchise, Maze Runner likely frustrates, because it has a slightly annoying habit of never settling. You never know what the next scene will bring, meaning that the next plot development might be the one to throw you away. While Alan Tudyk’s supporting part of a party-hard club owner is a colourful subplot, you might question how this story has veered into a nightclub scene with the leads have drunken hallucinations. However, if you step away from the formula of Maze Runner and focus more on the characterisation and over-arching plot, you will have more fun. This is a series with the end goal in mind. Yes, this makes it weaker than the original Maze Runner, which works just as well as a stand-alone thriller (The Scorch Trials has that unwelcome baggage of being the middle part of a trilogy), but it also makes it a story that is willing to go where it needs to go to for the good of the story. While the very mention of zombies might cause the typical eye roll from most audiences, credit is due to this franchise for being able to prove adept at suddenly becoming a zombie movie, yet keeping its thrills and plot in check. In fact, the scenes where the protagonists are fleeing from zombies are surprisingly chilling, putting most other zombie movies to shame. Perhaps it is the less is more approach (the movie can step away from zombies, without feeling like it is cheating its audience), but on the whole, the Scorch Trials manages to make writing in zombies a thoughtful progression of the tale, rather than a hack cop-out from the writing team.
The Scorch Trials succeeds at being pure entertainment. Its plot is puzzling enough to entice repeat viewings, yet not as messy as titles like Divergent, where keeping up with the narrative is just too much hard work. Its action is handled competently, director Wes Ball easily capable of wandering into any action movie he chooses with this skillset and holding his own. And again, its willingness to cross lines other young adult movies won’t gives Maze Runner a bite lacking in most other entries in the genre. However, it is definitely the kind of film that is best moving fast. While the first Maze Runner had time to be slow and thoughtful, several great actors delivering powerful character arcs, there is no such complexity with the sequel. Gone are the likes of Will Poulter, who is great to just watch do his thing and we are left with characters rushing through the plot, with no time to focus. We have spent two films with Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas now and he still feels like Handsome Teen protagonist 101. The adult supporting roles from Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito (amazing actor!) and Aidan Gillian are fun, but their job is to add colour, not depth. Hell, in casting known names like them, the director is buying out of the need to make more interesting characters. Other than one surprising twist near the end, little here surprises you. However, The Scorch Trials works fine at being a gripping Friday night movie that hooks you into seeking out the third film.
Final Verdict: Easy entertainment, yet gritty enough to transcend most of the young adult genre.