I was quite late getting around to watching the first Maze Runner film. The trailer didn’t sell the film to me, and I dismissed it as, “Yet another of those Hunger Games type things!” Even the word of colleagues who told me that it was worth checking out didn’t convince me. So, it was only a few weeks ago that I finally watched the first film, and was pleasantly surprised with what unfolded. Whilst the film had flaws, it engaged me for the whole run time, and left me wanting to see how the tale of Thomas and the rest of the survivors of the Maze plays out now they have escaped.
The Scorch Trials picks up right from the end of the first film, and sees the Gladers taken to a refuge by the army who we saw pick them up at the end of the previous film. Led by Janson (Aiden Gillan), this group promise to shelter the group and help them escape to a safe zone somewhere beyond ‘The Scorch’ (the name given to the apocalyptic wasteland). In the complex the group are introduced to other survivors of other mazes, but Thomas is suspicious, and the threat of WCKD still looms. Before long the group find themselves fighting for survival as they try to cross the Scorch to get to the mountains, where it is rumoured that a resistance group are located. Along the way they encounter the zombie-like Cranks, a mercenary group led by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), and the perilous conditions of The Scorch itself, as well as finding themselves constantly on the run from WCKD, who want them back at any cost.
The previous film, whilst boasting some impressive visual moments, relied more on the mystery and character, whereas spectacle is the order of the day for this second film as the location shifts to sprawling deserts, apocalyptic landscapes, decimated cities, industrial facilities, and subterranean pipelines. With more of this decimated world to work with, the film is understandably quite a journey at around 130 minutes in runtime. Whilst, overall, it maintains attention, there are moments where it plods along, and a few scenes could have easily been excised for a tighter pacing. One such section sees an otherwise star turn by Alan Tudyk as Marcus, the self serving owner of a bar within the city ruins. Whilst Tudyk is on great form in such a small cameo, the scenes add very little to to the overall story, and could have easily been dropped, allowing the movie to progress with a bit more pace. In addition, Gillan is a bit of a casting misstep as fans of his work on Game of Thrones will instantly be suspicious of him, and so within minutes of the film starting we are just waiting to find out what he is really doing, making the slow build up in the first act kind of pointless.
But these niggles aside, the film ticks many boxes and whilst never being more than predictable sci-fi fluff (with inspirations taken from a variety of sources – heck, it even seems to go ‘Last of Us’ at one point), it just about holds attention to the end – an ending which leaves us hanging, waiting for the next film to continue the tale. Some people may complain that the film is meaningless on its own, and the necessity to see the first, and the need to see the next in order to make a complete story is a negative. To those folk I simply say, ‘Empire Strikes Back’, drop the mic and walk off stage. This is the middle act of the story, and doesn’t try to resolve itself. Instead it simply expands on the minor information about this world, and the virus (the flare) that has wiped out so much of humanity.
Fans of the books may be upset at the removal of some key elements, and reshuffling of stories, but isn’t this the norm these days anyway? The film is tailored for a cinema audience, and as such this second film should please those who, like myself, were pleasantly surprised at the first film. Scorch Trials is a visual spectacle that doesn’t quite outstay its welcome, and sets up the pieces ready for The Death Cure, due in 2017 (and if Wes Ball stays to direct will be one film, unlike the fad to split final books into two films for no good reason).