With The Hunger Games, Divergent and now The Maze Runner series, the dystopian post-apocalyptic teen drama is becoming as much of a fixture in our cinemas as overblown superhero films. This could start to wear thin on audiences particularly those not wedded to the novels on which these films are based but the Maze Runner movies, which have been adapted from James Dashner’s successful trilogy, provide some thrills that we don’t normally see in the genre.
The first Maze Runner movie saw a group of confused teens led by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) mysteriously trapped in a giant labyrinth where, to survive and potentially escape they had to face deadly obstacles and terrifying critters. The parallels with the sudden confusion and challenges of adolescence were obvious but thoughtfully depicted. In the latest instalment, subtitled Scorch Trials Thomas and friends have escaped the maze and seem to have eluded the sinister and conveniently titled WCKD organisation that controls much of the now-devastated Earth. The kids now have to trek through the vast desert or ‘scorch’ in search of a group of freedom fighters who might help them uncover the reason behind WCKD’s disturbing fascination with the teens. Their journey is particularly perilous as they not only battle the elements but rampaging zombies and another nefarious organisation led by grinning slime-ball Janson (Aiden Gillen).
Like Divergent and The Hunger Games films, Scorch Trials explores vital teen issues such as search for empowerment and identity, the pressures of venturing into the world and dealing with duplicitous adult authority figures, romantic entanglements and even hallucinogenic drugs.
As it alternates between frenetic action and long passages of dialogue, Scorch Trials at 131 minutes becomes repetitive and a little draining. The action is well staged, though, with some intense battle scenes and frenzied, pulse-pounding sequences in which the youngsters desperately flee ravenous zombies.
The film also contains some impressively vivid art direction and set design and mostly convincing special effects as the teens journey through vast unforgiving deserts, post-apocalyptic ruins, teeming refugee camps and an enormous number of dark, creepy, zombie-infested subterranean lairs.
Performances are solid for this type of film even if our heroes look like a group of teen models who, despite living in squalor and trudging through the desert, always seem to have ample supplies of hair product. The film benefits from the talents of older pro’s like Gillen as Janson, Giancarlo Esposito and Barry Pepper as freedom fighters and Patricia Clarkson as Dr Ava Paige, WCKD’s morally ambiguous leader.
Like the second instalment in any trilogy, Scorch Trials has to cope with the fact that it not only lacks the thrill of first exposure to the fantasy world but also can’t resolve the film’s central dramas. Consequently, the ending of this film feels like a slightly clunky prelude to episode three but for the most part this film works as a self-contained story. The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials may be dull in a few places and probably won’t convert those who sneer at the concept of young adult fantasy but it should more than satisfy the series’ legion of fans.
Nick’s rating: ***.
Genre: Young adult fiction/ action-adventure.
Director(s): Wes Ball.
Release date: 10th July 2015.
Running time: 132 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
- What’s on ‘Built For Speed’ Friday 11th September 2015
- Film review: THE 5TH WAVE, from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: INSURGENT from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: YOUNG ADULT from Built for Speed
- Film review: THE HUNGER GAMES, from Built For Speed