Director: Wes Ball. Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen,Rosa Salazar. Running time: 131 minutes. Certificate: UK (12A), USA (PG – 13)
The recent batch of films franchises based on young adult novels have been a mixed bag. The Hunger Games films were mostly excellent whereas the two Divergent series films were pretty poor. Both Maze Runner movies are somewhere in the middle – just plain old average.
The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials is very similar in terms of quality to the first Maze Runner – it has an intriguing first hour or so and then descends deeply into daftness in the second half.
At the end of the first film, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his team of other teens had just escaped the massive and malicious maze – where they had been kept by the shady scientific organisation WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Department) in order to develop their immunity to a zombie-turning disease which ravaged most of the world’s population.
Scorch Trials starts minutes after its predecessor ends as after their escape, Thomas and co are rescued by a group of unknown soldiers and taken to a hi-tech prison-like facility led by Janson (Aiden Gillen – who you may recognise as Little Finger from Game of Thrones).
The mysterious Janson promises that the facility, which houses many other teens, is a safe haven designed to help out its guests. Thomas has his suspicions, and after befriending fellow doubter Aris (Jacob Lofland), his scepticism of his surrounds lead him and his group to escape the facility.
After their escape the gang find themselves lost out in the scorch – a vast unhospitable desert wasteland. Stranded in the barren wilderness, Thomas and co embark on a journey to find somewhere safe.
Their quest for safety leads to a host of exhilarating moments as the group find themselves in multiple deadly situations. There’s a thrilling sequence in an abandoned shopping mall where the teens are chased by a mop of bloodthirsty zombies, called “Cranks”, in a scene which will have your adrenaline racing.
Another tense pulse-pounding scene sees the Cranks hectically hunt Thomas and a new friend acquired on his travels, Brenda (Rosa Salazar), in a frenzied scramble inside a partly-collapsed skyscraper is also sure to thrill.
The Cranks resemble the extremely aggressive undead seen in 2013’s World War Z and while they are an utterly unoriginal brand of cinematic zombies, they do provide moments of genuine horror – think of them as The Sprinting Dead.
The frenetic fast-paced set pieces that returning director Wes Ball creates are without doubt the highlights of the film. Ball also excels, along with cinematographer Gyula Pados, in creating some breath-taking visuals which give the film an awesome aesthetic. There’s a particularly stunning shot which sees the group of teens walking across the top of a desert hill.
The cast all put in solid performances – O’Brien is good as the steely group leader Thomas. If O’Brien’s acting career doesn’t take off, he should have a future in athletics as he does enough running in the film to put Usain Bolt to shame!
The large supporting cast – particularly Salzaar, Skin’s Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt and Giancarlo Esposito (Gus from Breaking Bad) as Jorge all put in solid performances.
Unfortunately the rather bland script means that no actor or actress is given enough material to make the audience really care for their characters. There’s no sign of a standout character as each one is given very little personality which means that as the many characters come and go, you’re attention comes and goes.
The script also has very little humour – and any attempt at comedy is quite dull and uninspired. An injection of humour would have definitely made the flat characters feel a lot more interesting.
As earlier mentioned, Scorch Trials suffers from a weak second half as the repetition of simple plot points, some slow pacing and a couple of downright weird and unnecessary scenes (one in particular where Thomas and Brenda go to a trippy underground party) results in the excitement of the first half being sorely missed in the latter.
The lack of spark and dynamism in the script makes many of the quieter scenes in the second half feel tedious and boring and the film as a whole feel 10-15 minutes too long.
To be fair, Scorch Trials ends on quite a strong note as there’s a mental mass shootout which, just as I’m about to do, wraps things up nicely.
Ultimately despite any character development or a satisfying story, Scorch Trials is an action-packed adventure which for the most part, if you’re able to turn your brain off and strap yourself in for the ride, you might enjoy. 60% terrific and 40% tedious, The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials scores a:
Check out the trailer here: