The second instalment of the Maze Runner franchise begins mere minutes after the previous film ended. Thomas (Dylan O’Brian) and his friends are transported by helicopter to a fortified outpost. There, they find themselves in the company of other prisoners of different mazes. The facility is overseen by Janson (the reliably treacherous Aidan Gillen), whose indistinguishable accent and friendly persona hints that he is up to no good. Each evening a selection of teenagers, all of whom are immune to the ‘flare’, a zombie-like virus which has decimated humanity, are taken from the facility. Only Thomas finds their disappearance suspicious. After only scratching the surface a little, Thomas discovers that Janson and his cohorts are in fact part of WCKD (pronounced ‘wicked’), the enemy Thomas thought they had escaped. What follows is the group of teenagers’ desperate attempts to escape through the ‘scorch’; the wasteland left by solar flares. They are trying to find the Right Hand, a rebel group that rescues teenagers from WCKD.
The YA dystopian genre has been very busy over the last year. We’ve seen a new Divergent film and are waiting on the last instalment of The Hunger Games. After taking $340 million worldwide with the first Maze Runner, there was no real reason not to make a sequel. However The Scorch Trials seems to be lacking some of the mystery and group dynamics of its predecessor. The group of teenagers – comprising Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Alexander Flores and Kaya Scodelario – remain resolutely 2D: we never get much further than their names. Even Thomas, the protagonist, lacks the charisma and complexity which define Katniss and Trice in The Hunger Games and Divergent; his main characteristics seem to be discovering diabolical plots and running fast. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the single female member of this band of brothers, appears to exist only to be rescued, and be mooned over, by Thomas. But perhaps it is too much to expect complexity from a film which names its evil corporation ‘wicked’.
Despite the lack of character development, it can’t be denied that The Scorch Trials delivers on the action. From the first frame, the film barely pauses for thought, chase scene following chase scene. Where Director Wes Ball succeeds is in creating a real feeling of danger surrounding the characters. Unlike other films in the genre, The Scorch Trials leaves its audience and its characters completely in the dark about why anything is happening. Although this occasionally results in inexplicable decision making, it does at least sustain our curiosity.
What ultimately disappoints in The Scorch Trials is the film’s lack of defining features. The underground bunkers with which the film begins have been lifted straight off the set of Mockingjay. The zombie threat in the wasteland turns the film into The Walking Dead 2.0. The final instalment of this franchise is set to be released in 2017, and The Scorch Trials leaves us wondering if audiences have been given enough to keep their attention until then.
Image: The Guardian, Richard Foreman, Jr. SMPSP/PR