Editor’s Note: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials opened in wide theatrical release September 18, 2015.
Few genres have caused this writer quite as much frustration recently as the young adult dystopia, the vast majority of which seems to exist to manipulate its audience of impressionable teenagers into the belief that all adults are one degree short of Nazis for limiting their self-expression. The Divergent series is the most bone-headed example of this, positing a world where society is divided by the most simplistic of characteristics to provide a metaphor of malevolent parents stopping “special little snowflakes” from updating their social media page. Along came Wes Ball’s The Maze Runner, based on the first of a trilogy written by James Dashner, to blow all other competition out of the water. Although never quite matching its Lord of the Flies-inflected premise for originality or innovation, it was nonetheless a refreshingly mature YA adaptation with some terrific set-pieces curated by the talented Ball. The follow-up, set just minutes after its predecessor, is another jolt of energy to this increasingly tired genre. It’s far from perfect, but still leagues ahead of the derivative pack.
Ball has a natural eye for the visual and structural composition of set-pieces, and T.S. Nowlin’s script exploits this marvellously.
Having successfully escaped the Glade, our teenage heroes must evade the shady organisation WCKD (pronounced “wicked,” in case you were wondering who the villains were) as they traverse the devastated landscape of the Scorch in the hope of curing their collapsed civilisation. The fact that the story exists to generate the action scenes, rather than vice versa, could well have been a problem if said scenes weren’t directed with such vitality. An early, 28 Days Later-esque chase across a zombie-but-not-exactly-zombie-infested mall stands as the most heart-poundingly intense sequence of the year not in a film called Mad Max: Fury Road. Ball has a natural eye for the visual and structural composition of set-pieces, and T.S. Nowlin’s script exploits this marvellously.
Free from much of the tropes inflicting other, lesser YA franchises, Ball delivers another thrilling entry into the only worthwhile series of its kind right now.
Dylan O’Brien is Thomas, the leader of this teenage resistance, and has a figurative “movie star” written all over him. Among his repartee are Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) because how dare people in the future have actual names! All do fine work, O’Brien being a true stand-out, but are let down by a sleep-walking adult cast lumbered with overwrought clichés rather than characters. Aidan Gillen does his best faux-American accent in a thankless role, Patricia Clarkson stands around, presumably just to remind you she exists, and Giancarlo Esposito tries admirably to convince you his Jorge isn’t directly lifted from Plutarch Heavensbee in The Hunger Games. Alan Tudyk enjoys himself in a fun cameo, and threatens to steal the whole film in his two fleeting scenes.
The Scorch Trials is episodic by necessity, with the proceedings leading to very little progression. The film can almost by divided into individual short films, each punctuated by a different, though no less spectacular, chase sequence. Free from much of the tropes inflicting other, lesser YA franchises, Ball delivers another thrilling entry into the only worthwhile series of its kind right now. Stopping only when it remembers the audience it’s designed to accommodate, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials should satisfy fans and newcomers alike. Just don’t expect to know anyone’s name by the end.
Though episodic and hindered by overwrought clichés, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is thrilling entry into the only worthwhile YA series of its kind right now.