In general, most sequels to popular films have a hard time gaining acceptance from the movie-going audience. This is because they are rarely as good as the original. The filmmakers can get so preoccupied with trying to recreate the elements that made the first film successful, that they forget to add any real originality to the follow-up causing it to ultimately disappoint. Fortunately, MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS doesn’t fall into this trap. Working as a really good companion piece to its predecessor, the second film in THE MAZE RUNNER series is actually an improvement on the first (a rare thing for a sequel), as it effectively takes the story in a different direction while never forgetting to keep the original plot moving forward. Unlike most sequels, THE SCORCH TRIALS isn’t just a rehash of the original, but more of an inspired continuation. Continue reading for more of our spoiler-free MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS review.
Based on James Dashner’s successful series of young-adult novels, THE SCORCH TRIALS begins right where THE MAZE RUNNER left off. After escaping from the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his new found friends find themselves in a possible safe haven run by a group called WCKD – World Catastrophe Killzone Department. However, things begin to look bleak when Aris (Jacob Lofland), another survivor from a different maze shares with Thomas an interesting secret regarding WCKD. Investigating further, Thomas and Aris discover that the safe haven is far from safe and they, along with their friends, must make a desperate attempt to escape into the world outside where the lands have been burnt by solar flares and are now known as The Scorch. When in The Scorch, the group find that they must fight off infected zombie like creatures known as the Crank while searching for another group called the Right Arm who are rumored to have helped others like them escape WCKD in the past.
The film’s director Wes Ball and writer T.S. Nowlin have adapted Dashner’s novel into a story that gets away from the LORD OF THE FLIES inspired themes of the first movie and seems to be more influenced by films like John Milius’ RED DAWN and James Cameron’s ALIENS. The camaraderie created among the characters mixes well with the nonstop action, creating some real edge of your seat tension throughout. The movie throws us right into the middle of the action quite early on and never lets up. Editor Dan Zimmerman does a great job keeping the pace moving, while maintaining an even mix with the slower more emotional character moments.
The destroyed cities that inhabit The Scorch also help to differentiate this film from its predecessor. More open space is given to these locations creating a less claustrophobic feel to the film than what was created by the enclosed maze/encampment that our heroes were trapped in throughout THE MAZE RUNNER. The film’s production designer Daniel T. Dorrance has effectively teamed up with a group of effects artists to create the computer generated destruction outside. The fallen and destroyed buildings that make up the city in which our heroes must venture out into are beautifully rendered and effectively real helping to create an almost helpless tone.
Most of the cast from THE MAZE RUNNER have returned for this second film. O’Brien once again does a great job playing our hero Thomas, never overdoing the performance and always keeping his character grounded in reality. Surrounding him is a great supporting cast including Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden and Alexander Flores, all of whom do a great job portraying a well rounded group of friends who band together and create a real bond – a bond that is incredibly important to everything that unfolds. It is the effectiveness of this friendship that really makes us as an audience want to root for the characters throughout the story.
As the plot moves forward we are also introduced to several new characters, all adding something fresh and interesting to the movie. Respected actors like Patricia Clarkson, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper and Giancarlo Esposito give first-rate performances, but it’s the introduction to Rosa Salazar who portrays Brenda, a tough as nails girl who may be a potential love interest for Thomas, that truly stands out as she steals almost every scene she’s in.
If the film has any faults, they come from the few moments in the script that seem a little too coincidental and manipulative for their own good. At times things seem to happen only because if they didn’t, then the plot couldn’t move forward. Moments like these made me wish for a little bit more thought and creativity in the storytelling. Fortunately, it all becomes easy to forgive as you begin to get wrapped up in the excitement of the action and the emotions of characters.
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS is one of those rare sequels that works. What director Wes Ball has done here is something interesting. Instead of doing what so many sequels do by taking what made THE MAZE RUNNER so successful and just creating more of that, he gives audiences a very different kind of film that still feels like the perfect companion piece to the first movie in the series.