No rest for the WCKD…
“The Maze is one thing,” slurs Aidan Gillen's Janson, the actor's Irish accent crackling through the American, “but you kids wouldn't last a day out in the Scoooorch.”
He's not totally wrong: the huge, monstrous labyrinth of last year's The Maze Runner – where a group of boys (and girl) found themselves trapped with no memory – is indeed gone. And in its place is... well, everything. Unlike fellow young adult franchise The Hunger Games, sequel The Scorch Trials abandons its USP altogether – boldly opening up, for better and for worse, into something entirely different.
Out of the maze and into the fire, it picks up right where we left off: with Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and the other 'Gladers' on the run from shady organisation WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Department). Having escaped their lab, and sinister, Littlefinger-esque enforcer Janson, they venture out into a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by solar flares: where cities are now ruins in the desert, and a disease has rendered most of the population berserk, screaming zombies. This is the sprawling Scorch, and it looks beautiful.
Free of the Maze's claustrophobic self-containment, returning director Wes Ball runs wild; there's barely a sequence here lacking style or imagination. One stand-out shot, for instance, has the group walking in silhouette over a sand dune, only to halt from a distant gunshot (an infected friend preventing the inevitable).
The action scenes, too, are urgent and masterfully paced; especially one involving a zombie attack in a mall, which builds ever-so-slowly to a grisly reveal likely inspired by cinematic videogame The Last of Us (the zombies even sound like its Clickers). In fact, compared to other young adult efforts, this is, overall, far more grim and gory.
Even so, such momentum works hard to mask a flimsy and unfocused script (adapted from book two in James Dashner's YA trilogy). Action is one thing, but the film also needs a better-developed sense of mystery – as well as a deeper exploration of character relationships and a wit that goes beyond tired lines like, “well, that doesn't sound good.” Not necessarily deal breakers, and the Empire Strikes Back-esque ending does up the dramatic ante.
Yet when the dust settles The Scorch Trials is, as we're repeatedly told of WCKD, “good” – just not as good as you want it to be.