Picking up where the first film left off, Scorch Trials follows our Maze Runners as they head for what they think is salvation. Led by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), the survivors are being held in a compound by the mysterious Janson (Aiden Gillen) who promises them everything will be fine once the group have been ‘processed’. When loner Aris (Jacob Lofland) shows Thomas what is really going on, the Gladers escape from what they believe is another WCKD trap and into the desolate land known as ‘The Scorch’, a place incinerated by solar flares and home to the rampaging Cranks. Their only hope is finding the legendary resistance group known as The Right Arm and try and uncover what is really driving WCKD to hunt them down.
The tone is vastly different to the first film, as this is far more expansive both in terms of plot and in the sheer scale of its presentation. Escaping the claustrophobic confines of The Glade and Maze, The Scorch Trials is visually rewarding and generally for more entertaining than what proceeded it. The actors are given more room to manoeuvre too. The physical trials they face, are, at times, jaw-droppingly presented. When Thomas and newcomer Brenda (Rosa Salazar) try to escape from the zombie-like Cranks through a series of collapsed high-rise towers, the action kicks into top gear with breath-taking efficiency.
These sequences are genuinely among some of the best you will see all year. They are exhilarating, and the success of the first film has clearly led to a huge budget this time around. Director Wes Ball knowns exactly what to do with the money, the world he has created is spectacular and yet strangely familiar. It’s also a terrifying one, there are jumps aplenty when the lights go out and the Cranks are lurking just out of sight.
However, as the film enters its final act, it unfortunately starts to feel like some of the other young adult adaptations from recent years. There are moments when you expect a mildly disinterested Miles Teller to wonder in or an utterly bored Natalie Dormer to fly in on a helicopter – but don’t let the late lulls put you off. The actors are having more fun with the direction their characters take. There is a slow-build turn that is as unexpected as it is fulfilling. You won’t see it coming, but when you think back over what you have already seen it will make perfect sense.
Of course most of the audience will already know all the twists and turns having read the books from which the film series is adapted, but even then there is plenty else to enjoy. O’Brien looks far more like a proper movie star this time around. He looked like an innocent in the midst of the maze, but in The Scorch Thomas becomes a leader and O’Brien becomes an action star. Of the supporting cast, Gillen gets to go full Littlefinger and Ki Hong Lee (playing the bundle of energy Minho) shows off even more of the brutal side that pleasantly surprised us before.
You’ll have to go a long way to find a better film coming out this year in this over-crowded genre.