The young adult (YA) movie adaptation landscape is littered with the corpses of the franchises that didn’t make it beyond the first hurdle. The Maze Runner was a rare instance of a story that worked and managed to find an audience. Having made a bucketload of money a sequel was promptly greenlit. And so here we are, with an adaptation of the second book in James Dashner’s series, The Scorch Trials.
You can break the plot down to this very simple idea: our hero from the first film, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), and his fellow survivors who escaped The Glade, spend nearly 2 hours running away from everything that is chasing after them or trying to kill them.
And the story, such as it is, never really lets up as we sprint breathlessly from one set piece to another. They’re always moving away from WCKD and into zombie-infested shopping malls. The zombie-like Cranks provide effective scares despite the film’s 12A rating. Meanwhile electrical storms, a number of unfriendly human communities, WCKD (obviously) in the form of Patricia Clarkson’s scientist Ava, a shifty appearance from Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger in Game of Thrones), and Gus from Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito) throw difficulties into the mix. There’s world building aplenty here, but it’s built into the narrative in such a way that it doesn’t feel like blatant exposition. Exploring the wider world outside of The Glade and “The Scorch”, the world is a desert wasteland caused by solar flares. The old civilisation has been consumed by sand and since fallen into disrepair.
Having read interviews from Kaya Scodelario after the release of The Maze Runner, she stated that she signed up for the series because of the direction her character would take in the sequel(s). This was a reaction to how relatively little she had to say or do in that film compared to her male co-stars. And yet in The Scorch Trials, despite her character making a seemingly shocking decision (I didn’t find it all that shocking), she still has little to contribute to the story.
It’s actually newcomer Brenda (Rosa Salazar) who has a far better story arc and given a bigger opportunity to make her mark on the story. Hopefully it will be the third and final film based on book 3, The Death Cure, that Teresa will get her moment in the spotlight. Even so, having to wait until film 3 for something worthwhile to contribute is perhaps a bit too much. We shall see when that film is released in February 2017.
The Scorch Trials is very much the middle part of a trilogy, expanding on the world of the first film but ending in such a way that resolution won’t present itself until the third film. The new characters are introduced well (it’s always a pleasure to see Barry Pepper and Alan Tudyk), but at the expense of the pre-existing characters who, while well represented, don’t contribute much beyond running around behind Thomas and asking questions. It’s also lacking a decent source of antagonism, which was superbly provided by Will Poulter in The Maze Runner. Otherwise, it’s a successful sequel and proof that there are legs in YA adaptations provided the source material is reasonably strong. Plus the production itself must be given sufficient space to breathe as a distinct and separate interpretation of the source material.