|'New characters come and occasionally go, the group pop into and out of captivity. It all feels a bit videogame-ish, a bit lacking in the singular aim and clear path the first film set out.'|
The Maze Runner franchise continues to follow its Young Adult fiction compatriot Divergent a little bit too closely for comfort with this second offering, which takes our heroes out of their titular imprisonment and throws them into a wider post-apocalyptic world. Unlike Divergent though, The Scorch Trials struggles to establish its new locale or to give our protagonists enough to do. Too much of this second offering is spent on thinly conceived action, the context of which is never established. New characters come and occasionally go, the group pop into and out of captivity. It all feels a bit videogame-ish, a bit lacking in the singular aim and clear path the first film set out.
The Scorch Trials is also notable for its extremely ripe script. Wes Ball returns for directing duties but, unlike the first film's 'script-by-committee' (from Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin), Nowlin is left to his own devices and produces something far worse. 'So... what's up with you?', one character asks another by way of getting a chunk of dialogue started. It's not the worst offender. The final speech, shot complete with supplementary characters looking up at the speech giver, could only have been more obviously cheese if it had come with Branston.
The wider problem Ball has though is making what we are watching matter. For a start, some of the drive of the first film seems to have been lost. Who is chasing these kids, led by Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), again? Why do they want them and perhaps more importantly, why were they imprisoned in the maze in the first place? Losing the threads of a plot in a film can be the audiences' fault but The Scorch Trials is convincingly scatter-brained enough about its setup, its reasoning, its heroes and villains to absolve you of blame. By the time new characters Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) turn up rather too late and unconvincingly waver between what side they're on you'll be forgiven for having given up.
You'll certainly be forgiven of that by the time a completely separate group of characters turns up even later than Jorge and Brenda. At one-hundred and thirty-one minutes, this is already too long, but there are clear signs here that Ball and Nowlin have struggled to fit everything they wanted to into the narrative. The opening should surely have been a candidate for a cut. As Aidan Gillen's uncertainly accented (and therefore positively evil) Janson lords it over the group in an industrial bunker-type complex, your only questions are around how long it will be before they escape and get on with things. The answer, it eventually emerges, is 'too long'. The film never recovers and the finale hints that the third and final outing in this franchise, The Death Cure, may be heading towards a Hobbit-esque feature-length battle. It's hard to work up any excitement for it on both that basis and the evidence presented here.