This article was originally published to The Edge on 14th September 2015
The Maze Runner came to us last year as a hopeful contender to The Hunger Games’ current position as the YA Sci-Fi champion, and proved itself a morally and thematically interesting thriller, with deft character development and genuinely thrilling sequences. Its sequel The Scorch Trials however, doesn’t follow the same Lord Of The Flies formula, as the heroes venture out into the desolate world beyond the Maze, to find it all eerily similar to every other popular sci-fi in town.
The Scorch Trials picks up right where the first left off: Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends have successfully escaped the maze and been rescued by a group led by Mr. Janson (Aidan Gillen) who claim to be in opposition to WCKD. However they soon realise that the group is still WCKD, so they venture out into ‘the Scorch’, the desert wasteland of the outside world, to seek help. Hunted by their past, imperilled by their surroundings, and in constant danger of the zombie-like Cranks, can Thomas lead his friends to safety?
Riffing and lifting obviously from The Walking Dead, Mad Max, and even in ways The Hunger Games itself (with WCKD’s soldiers resembling those of Panem coated in black paint), the story manages to avoid being a carbon copy of the previous film. However, by lifting from so many other places, the world struggles to feel individual. Meanwhile the script leaves the characters with very little to do except keep running. Unlike the first film, which managed to weave development into the action and in between, here it feels like every quiet moment is the same as the last, and that characters like Minho (Ki Hon Lee) are being forced through the motions with unnecessary lines of dialogue like “I don’t ever want to go back”. Well, duh.
Poor O’Brien is always looking confused or inquisitive, skating by as a lead on the conviction and energy he brings to every action. The relationship the script tries to force between him and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is completely unsupported, while she gets an almost insulting role in the plot. He has much more chemistry with the far more interesting and spunky Brenda (Rosa Salazar), who is introduced halfway through with the also very good Giancarlo Esposito, as her guardian Jorge.
If the script had been more than a series of escapes after another with next to no development, director Wes Ball could have made something really special here. As it is, because he is miraculously talented, he’s able to keep the pace moving on, and thrill us on multiple occasions, with some great set-pieces. They’re not always inventive, but they’re thrilling and well-made, and Ball squeezes class and cool out of a derivative world. It’s unlikely that the final part of this trilogy, The Death Cure can recover from the escalating madness of the mythology, or the bizarre morality of its characters. WCKD want to save the world, and whilst their methods may be drastic, the heroes seem completely oblivious to the virtue of said mission. However with Ball at the helm, it would be hard to deny the appeal of a further foray into this thrilling world.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), directed by Wes Ball, is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Certificate 12A.