UK Release Date: 10th September 2015
Runtime: 131 minutes
Director: Wes Ball
Writer: TS Nowlin
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aidan Gillen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson
Synopsis: A band of friends must once again evade the clutches of WCKD in order to uncover the secrets of their world.
Another week, another dystopian young adult novel to join the swelling subgenre. The Scorch Trials is the sequel to the surprisingly decent 2014 effort The Maze Runner, with returning director Wes Ball this time expanding his world outside of the restrictive environment of the first film’s titular labyrinth to thrilling effect. Unfortunately, despite plenty of visual invention, the plot doesn’t quite shape up.
After their escape from the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and their friends are being shielded from the evil WCKD by Janson (Aidan Gillen) in a secure desert facility. However, when it becomes clear that Janson is in fact working alongside WCKD, the Gladers must go on the run once again. With the help of rebel girl Brenda (Rosa Salazar), they head out in search of the Right Arm – shadowy leaders of the anti-WCKD resistance.
If ever a film could be described as having middle movie syndrome, The Scorch Trials is that film. It largely avoids recapping the plot in any way, simply dropping the audience where they left off a year ago. From that moment until the final credits, Ball barely lifts his foot from the gas pedal, catapulting the film through myriad action set pieces, chases and shouted exposition. As rollicking and fast-paced as the film is, you need a degree in the franchise’s mythology to have even the first clue what is happening a lot of the time.
| "Wait here. No need playing bumper cars with the dead folks again."
Thankfully, Ball is emerging as a stellar action director and is able to paper over the story’s narrative gaps with terrific set pieces that balance aspects of action cinema with some genuinely frightening horror iconography. The “cranks” – humans turned into zombie-like creatures by a deadly virus – are straight from the playbook of Romero. They push the boundaries of the film’s 12A certificate to its limit with their misshapen bodies and desire for human blood. It’s through these threats that Ball manages to create a kinetic urgency to The Scorch Trials.
All of this running and chasing and zombie fighting comes at a price though, and The Scorch Trials largely puts aside the intriguing mystery and character development of the first film. Occasional revelations allow Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario to dust off their “and on that bombshell…” faces, but these rug pulls never feel like they have any material impact on the plot. Shorn of any character depth, the performances lose their edge and the peripheral characters become entirely unmemorable ciphers.
For a large part of its running time, The Scorch Trials is an utter mess. The episodic wandering never really feels like it’s going anywhere and Aidan Gillen gets little chance to flex the villain muscles he has perfected as Machiavellian genius Littlefinger in Game of Thrones. By the time revelations start to pile on in the final act, it’s difficult to care. The film would’ve been far more entertaining if it had spent more time with the zombies.
| "Hope is a dangerous thing."
It’s clear that the Maze Runner franchise is never going to hit the high watermark set by The Hunger Games, but it remains one of the more intriguing and entertaining young adult franchises. Wes Ball’s direction ensures that the series maintains one clear voice and, with a longer gap ahead of trilogy-closing finale The Death Cure, it’s worth being excited for the conclusion of what remains a promising piece of work.
Pop or Poop?
Director Wes Ball is the undisputed star of the Maze Runner franchise and continues to stamp his impression on the series with The Scorch Trials.
Unfortunately, the film is something of an unwieldy mess that pretty much discards any hope of helping the audience through the complex world of James Dashner’s novels.
If you just sit back and enjoy the action, though, this remains one of the better entries in the YA canon.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.