The world seems obsessed with dystopian teen fantasies recently. You can’t turn around in the cinema without a poster or advertisement for The Divergent Maze Games or some such. The month of September is no different bringing with it the release of the second in the Maze Runner franchise, The Scorch Trials.
Based in the book series by James Dashner the first film saw Thomas (Dylan O’ Brien) plunged into a glade with a number of others boys having had his memory erased. With no idea who he is other than his name or where he is Thomas learns that he is in fact in a giant maze (hence the title). Along with the other boys in the glade (Gladers) he must try and escape the maze. When a girl appears in the maze along with a note, things become more desperate and eventually a group of Gladers escape the maze. But are they free?
Scorch Trials picks up where the first film leaves off. Thomas and his fellow Gladers find themselves in a secure facility ran by Mr Janson (Aiden Gillan), seemingly to protect them from WCKD. Here they meet Aris Jones (Jacob Lofland) who helps them uncover the truth. Along with their new friends the Gladers need to escape and try and locate the Right Arm, a resistance troupe who can hopefully offer them safety and a way home. Standing in their way is The Scorch. An expanse of desolate desert with no shade. Just to make things more interesting, there are also the Cranks. Humans that have been infected by the zombiefying Flare virus. Nothing is ever straightforward.
The Maze Runner franchise sits somewhere between the Hunger Games series and the Divergent series. Whilst it lacks the gravitas and strong characterisations, not to mention the strong female presence that is present within the Hunger Games films, The Maze Runner feels less watered down than the Divergent series. The pace is quicker and flows better than Divergent or Insurgence and the plot appears to have more turns and flips than the all too linear Divergent series.
As mentioned the characterizations within Scorch Trials, whilst having some depth, lack the impetus of those in similar films. Both the Hunger Games and the Divergent films employ strong female characters within the lead cast, whereas the female characters within Scorch Trials are either ‘bad’ or supporting. In a year that has seen a number of strong female led films such as Trainwreck and Mad Max: Fury Road it is a shame that a film aimed at a younger generation could not employ a stronger female role model.
What does work well in this film are the effects and the action. The views of an apocalyptic, destroyed city are impressive (although structurally there are certain plot holes) and the Cranks are genuinely scary at points, being reminiscent of Resident Evil style zombies. It comes as no surprise that director Wes Ball has a background in graphics and visual effects in projects such as Beginners and Star Trek. Making his feature film directorial debut with the original Maze Runner film the visual effects are one of the strongest aspects of both of the films.
Some of the twists and turns in the plot are predictable and too heavily hinted at, as if the film doesn’t trust its audience to join the dots so it puts some huge great spots in there for safe measure. Despite this the twists are effective and they aid in making the film more interesting than it otherwise would be. There are certain distractions though. Such as some of the completely illogical choices made by the lead characters, or unrealistic reactions. These are in no way anymore prevalent in this film than they are in other films, but they are just as infuriating. Scorch Trials slows down in the middle, but generally the pace remains good and moves along at a pace that keeps the audience involved.
The performances are strong from the cast, with a particularly good melancholy performance by Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, evoking some of her troubled kid persona from her time on UK TV drama Skins. The relationship between her and Thomas weakened in this film, but that appeared to be intentional. Thomas’ relationship with Brenda (Rosa Salazar) was less tangible and more difficult to believe. As was her relationship with Jorge (Giancario Esposito) which was difficult to understand due to a lack of explanation.
Despite the downsides, the film is enjoyable to watch much as the first one was. The characters are relatable and there is enough character development to be able to build a bond with the lead cast. You do begin to care about them and you are gunning for them to make it. The script offers subtle comic nuances as well as moments that make you jump and the ending leaves you wanting more.