When I saw the first installment of this franchise, The Maze Runner, I thought it was excellent. I only realised afterwards that it was based upon the teen fiction series, but considered it superb as a standalone piece of film. This second installment, The Scorch Trials, continues in a similar vein with all the qualities that made the former so good; a great, young cast and a story that doesn’t seem as predictable as its numerous counterparts in this genre. Whilst many who watched The Maze Runner would have felt it struck a similar cord to The Hunger Games and Divergent series, in that it’s set in a dystopian world, adults vs children etc. where The Scorch Trials gathers pace and runs away from these peers is in its treatment of its characters and willingness to plunge them into scenarios with much darker themes.

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The story picks up immediately from its predecessor; our young protagonists have been rescued from the mysterious WCKD organisation and have now joined tens of other teenagers in a secure compound, settled somewhere in The Scorch. All we know of this huge desolate landscape is that it’s perilous, not just because of freak weather conditions including scalding solar rays and massive electrical storms, but also the people/creatures/infected that reside there, evidently claimed by the relentless flare virus that caused mankind to fall. I shall share no spoilers, but inevitably WCKD loom on the horizon, and the group, more numerous now, must flee into The Scorch, led by Thomas, whose portrayal by Dylan O’Brien is convincingly mature as we see him grow into the role of a leader, who is idealistic if not filled with ideas as to what they should do next.

Among the supporting cast we again see strong performances from Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones) and Ki-Hong Lee (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), though I felt Kaya Scodelario fell down in her reprisal of Theresa, this could perhaps be down to the character being far less engaging than in The Maze Runner. What we see is a group of friends being pushed to their limits; having escaped from the relatively safe, controlled environment of the maze, they now have to grow up fast in a chaotic world where trials, both physical and mental lurk around every corner. As I mentioned previously, the film succeeds in that it surprises you; there are moments of genuine terror (I did actually jump in my seat a few times), along with dark moral quandaries where the only apt response is “bloody hell…” (anyone who has ever played The Last of Us will know what I mean).

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Ultimately it’s this combination of fear, shock and intrigue that makes The Scorch Trials a very satisfying watch, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s slightly bored of the current crop of teenage dystopias, where the focus seems to be more on heartache than on just how messed up these worlds can be. Though I can’t say yet whether this could end up being considered one of the great film trilogies, I’m delighted with what I’ve seen so far and hope director Wes Ball can keep up this momentum going into the third and final installment. One thing I would say is don’t see this in 3-D, the story is good enough that it doesn’t need effects to carry it over the line, so paying the extra fiver just isn’t worth it (more gripes about 3-D to come in the future…).

4/5

Dir: Wes Ball

Scr: T.S. Nowlin

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Nathalie Emmanuel

Prd: Marty Bowen, Eddie Gamarra, Wyck Godfrey, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Joe Hartwick Jr, Lee Stollman

DOP: Gyula Pados

Music: John Paesano

Country: USA

Year: 2015

Run time: 131 mins 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is in cinemas now via 20th Century Fox.

Check out this featurette on the film below.