Starring: Dylan O’Brien (The Internship), Kaya Scodelario (Moon), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (About a Boy), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Ki Hong Lee (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Rosa Salazar (Insurgent), Patricia Clarkson (Easy A)
Director: Wes Ball (The Maze Runner)
Writer: T.S. Nowlin (The Maze Runner)
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
Release Date: 10 September (UK), 18 September (US)
Of all the YA novel adaptations, The Maze Runner was far from the worst but it wasn’t any good either. It had an intriguing premise, but its approach to storytelling was so preposterous and full of teasing that it made Damon Lindelof’s writing seem straightforward. It was a film that basically felt like just a set-up for a sequel, and now we have one in the form of The Scorch Trials. Whilst it’s a marked improvement over its predecessor, it’s only better in that it has gone from stupid to generic.
Picking up right where the first film left off, The Scorch Trials answers some of the questions raised in the original but leaves other to continue alluding. Thankfully it doesn’t dwell on its mystery as much this time, instead becoming more focused on a simple action-adventure “go from A to B to C” plot. Whilst this does make the story less aggravating to pick apart, it now leaves even less impact. For the most part, The Scorch Trials is an incredibly predictable movie because it relies too much on tropes and borrows too many ideas from other films. The first act set in a military base/research facility is near identical to the first half of Michael Bay’s The Island, and then the film introduces zombies but has absolutely no new ideas about what to do with them. The story is basically just a flimsy thread linking together a series of action sequences, and what isn’t action is just characters explaining the plot to each other; the bland and predictable dialogue doesn’t help much either. However, the film’s third act is surprisingly strong thanks to a decent character twist and a considerable raising of the stakes. Sure, it does end up raising even more questions, but at least the film gives a stronger idea of what the next film is going to be.
Another big flaw with the first Maze Runner were the incredibly bland characters, and that’s still a major downfall of The Scorch Trials. Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas is still an incredibly bland Mary Sue figure; we’re constantly told how important and special he is, yet he has no discernable characteristics other than being the hero. Kaya Scodelario is again given nothing to do as token girl Teresa but provide vague hints to Thomas about their past, but the indication that she’ll become more important next time is at least alleviating. Thomas’ other friends feel even drier than they did the first time around, essentially being relegated to his cheering squad, so much so that I forgot why some of them were even there; they dedicate this huge scene to one side character’s death, and he was so generic and unimportant that it wasn’t until checking IMDb that I realised he’d been in the first movie the whole time. In terms of new blood, there are some bright spots. Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar are welcome additions with a lot of potential, but the film doesn’t give Esposito much to other than again further advance the plot. There are even more recognisable faces here this time around like Barry Pepper, Lilli Taylor, Nathalie Emmanuel and Alan Tudyk, but a lot of them feel like either throwaways or people they hired now just because they’ll become important later. Unfortunately, the main sour spot is Aidan Gillen as the film’s new antagonist Janson. Gillen gives a fine enough performance, but the character is such an obvious Evil McVillainbad from the start and yet they keep trying to hide it during the first act. Casting directors, please remember The Ben Kingsley Principle in future: if you want to keep the identity of the villain a secret, don’t hire an actor well known for playing a villain!
The Scorch Trials is a visually well-crafted film but, like elements of the plot, that’s mainly because they’ve borrowed ideas from other works, especially video games. The film’s production design and creature effects feel directly ripped from The Last of Us, whilst the visual of cities drenched in sand kept bringing to mind Spec Ops: The Line. There’s a lot of action in this instalment and, whilst most of it is well shot and choreographed, the lack of character investment takes away a lot of the tension. The CGI work is decent throughout, but it does feel overused; there’s a bit where they render a rat digitally to do something they probably just could have trained a real rat to do.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials isn’t the frustrating experience that its predecessor was, but it doesn’t do much to elevate the franchise. Instead of trying to fix its problems, it merely ignores them and focuses instead on non-stop action scenes. Like the first film, it too often feels like they’re making up the story as they go, but instead of constantly throwing illogical twists at the audience they just give us yet another chase sequence. It’s overall a more tolerable experience than The Maze Runner, but I don’t think anyone unconvinced by the first film will suddenly become invested after watching the follow-up. The third film, The Death Cure, is already confirmed, so now all we can do is hope they don’t make the stupid decision to split it into two films.
FINAL VERDICT: 5/10