Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

The maze was just the beginning

Granted, there may not be a ‘maze’ in this second chapter of the youth-centric Maze Runner saga, but returning director Wes Ball compensates for the lack thereof by instilling oodles of ‘running’ in this chilling mishmash of sci-fi concepts and video game visuals. If you missed the first picture in James Dashner’s Young Adult series, I guess it doesn’t really matter, seeing as The Maze Runner (2014) effectively works as a prologue to Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

Taking place immediately after the previous installment, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials opens with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers being ushered to an isolated facility in the middle of the desert. There, Thomas and his gang of cohorts — who are immune to the deadly disease that’s known as The Flare — are held in captivity by the enigmatic Janson (Aidan Gillen) who promises them that everything will be ‘fine’ once they have been ‘processed’. When outsider Aris (Jacob Lofland) shows Thomas that something strange is happening at the center, which leads him to believe that they are being held captive by W.C.K.D. — an organization originally formed to find a cure for The Flare — the boys escape from their incarceration and head into the desolate badlands known as ‘The Scorch.’ Attempting to survive in the sun-soaked wasteland, the Gladers dodge zombie-like creatures — who embody The Flare virus at its most vicious — and the harsh, desolate terrain as they track down the whereabouts of a legendary résistance group known as ‘The Right Arm,’ in the hope of finding protection and uncovering W.C.K.D.’s hidden agenda.

Here Comes the Boom!
Here Comes the Boom!

Straight off the bat, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a very different picture to its predecessor. You see, while The Maze Runner took place in the claustrophobic confines of its titular maze — with our protagonists racing against time and a mysterious enemy in order to survive — this sequel sets the Gladers loose into the gigantic apocalyptic world in which they inhabit, a savage environment reminiscent of video games such as Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, Interplay Entertainment’s Fallout or id Software’s lesser known Rage. Just like these interactive experiences, the sheer scale of the decaying city is spine-tingeing and at times even jaw-droppingly haunting, thanks to the inspired production design of Daniel T. Dorrance, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) and the splendid cinematography by Gyula Pados, Predators (2010). A sequence where newcomer Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Thomas try to escape the clutches of some feral Cranks — weaving in and out of debris and a series of collapsed high-rise buildings — plays like a stimulating video game, serving as a genuinely thrilling and equally terrifying chase. Furthermore, no action beat is repeated twice, with each new industrial set piece feeling extremely fresh and nail bitingly exciting. The picture’s tone is also much bleaker than that of its forerunner as Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials tackles tougher themes whilst taking more risks by deviating from its source material. In addition, the flick boasts a surprising amount of violence given its PG-13 rating in the US.

Running for a rather generous 131 minutes, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials loses a bit of steam by the time it reaches its third act, as it’s unfairly hindered by being the ‘bridging’ movie in the trilogy — suffering from what I like to call ‘second-movie-syndrome’ — with the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin, The Maze Runner (2014), failing to provide any sort of closure within the narrative whilst simultaneously setting up for what’s to come. Where The Maze Runner felt tight and tense, this sequel feels a little overstuffed and derivative, particularly given the amount of new locations and characters we are introduced to — most of which aren’t given any time to grow or develop. Giancarlo Esposito, The Usual Suspects (1995), fizzles as Jorge Gallaparga, a man who presents himself as the leader of a band of Cranks within The Scorch, while Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan (1998), has little to do in his serviceable role as Vince, head of The Right Arm. Likewise, Lili Taylor, The Conjuring (2013), feels a little useless as Mary Cooper, a ‘film only’ doctor who works alongside Vince at the safe haven, even Alan Tudyk, I, Robot (2004), is forgetful in his bit part as some kind of club impresario who goes by the name of Blondie.

'We're ready for the next level ... right?'
‘We’re ready for the next level … right?’

Thankfully, the key cast fare up a little better. Lead Dylan O’Brien, The First Time (2012), makes for a compelling and dedicated action star, commanding the screen as Thomas, the head of the Gladers. Reprising their roles from the first film, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Nanny McPhee (2005), looks a little older as Newt while Ki Hong Lee, The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015), exposes his more ferocious side as Minho. The always-dazzling Kaya Scodelario also returns as Teresa — although she’ll always be Effy Stonem from television’s Skins (2007) in my eyes — yet sadly, she (once again) isn’t given much to do inside of this macho-fueled sequel; however, the startling finale (which should come as no surprise for those who have read the novels) suggests that a more important role awaits Scodelario in the follow-up. Rounding out the returning faces is Patricia Clarkson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), doing her best ‘President Snow’ impersonation as the highest-ranking official of W.C.K.D., Ava Paige.

Whether a fan of the books or a casual viewer, there’s plenty to enjoy in this teenage dystopian series. While The Maze Runner was a ripping little chase flick, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials sees our amnesiac teens released into the wild, where they discover some revealing and alarming answers about their situation. Excellently realized, competently directed and soundly acted, this second Maze Runner chapter makes for a worthy inclusion in what is shaping up to be one of the better Young Adult adaptations in this over-saturated market.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is released through 20th Century Fox Australia