It seems like we need more dystopian teen science fiction at the minute like a fish needs a bicycle. The prevalence of the genre, thanks principally to the wildly successful Hunger Games franchise, means that oppressed teenagers appear to be everywhere at the minute; moping around, being forced to ritually murder each other, starving to death and getting mud on their charcoal grey overalls.
Paradoxically the most helpful and most dangerous thing about something like the Hunger Games is that its popularity has opened doors for further young adult franchises, but its ubiquity has made everything that follows seem like an imitation. Just as Harry Potter paved the way for Percy Jackson, Inkheart et al, in a post Hunger-Games world, the likes of Divergent and The Maze Runner feel a little like pretenders to the teen sci-fi crown.
And that was probably the greatest criticism of the first Maze Runner movie. There wasn’t a great deal there that you hadn’t seen before, and done with a touch more panache. A little bit Hunger Games and a little bit Lord of the Flies, it didn’t feel like it was treading any new ground. Its saving grace was that it was, at least, refreshingly dark and nasty, placing greater emphasis on the horror element of the narrative than was to be expected from those unfamiliar with the source novel. Its sequel: The Scorch Trials seeks to repeat that measure of success, but on a larger scale. It’s certainly bigger, but by turning everything up to eleven, Director Wes Ball has effectively shone a ray of daylight into the darker corners of the series’ concept and highlighted the flaws therein.
Kicking off immediately after its predecessor, The Scorch Trials sees Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his pals out of the maze and picked up by the shady military personnel who extracted them from WCKD’s ruined base. They are placed into a holding facility with survivors from other mazes, but soon realise that the place, run with determined efficiency by Aiden Gillen, is a cover for WCKD’s sinister operations and they break out. Now on the run across the post-apocalyptic wastes known as The Scorch, they search of a band of resistance fighters known as the Right Arm.
Ball directs the action sequences with competency and it’s nice to see that this is a story unafraid to give its young target audience more than its fair share of scares. The zombie-like creatures that pursue Thomas and co are genuinely vicious and set-piece scenes in which they torment their quarry are taut, tight and dark. Beyond that, there’s very little positive to say about a story that seems cobbled together from all the best bits of films you’ve previously seen. At times the narrative feels like it’s being made up on the hoof, cribbing ideas from superior works like: Day of the Dead, Mad Max, The Last of Us, Coma, and with a late action sequence lifted wholesale from The Lost World.
As yet another wearingly familiar premise, stock character or contrivance shuffles into view, you realise, a few scares aside, The Scorch Trails seems almost totally incapable of summoning a single original idea.
Action, sci-fi, Thriller | USA, 2015 | 12A |20th Century Fox Pictures UK | 11th September 2015 (UK) | Dir.Wes Ball| Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Catherine Clarkson,Giancarlo Esposito