Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials review: a-MAZE-balls?

How does the Maze Runner sequel fare against its predecessor?

Maze Runner smoothly transforms into The Scorch Trials, picking up from where it left off a year ago down to the minute. Now that they’ve finally escaped the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and pals find themselves in a futuristic underground compound amongst hundreds of other kids who have grown up in the maze and, even more strangely, adults.

But even after being cleaned up, fed and generally cared for by the apparently harmless compound staff, the group have a hard time trusting them. Fleeing the base, they find themselves running once more, this time away from the danger instead of into it, in an attempt to find out what evil corporation WCKD are up to, if they can be trusted and, most importantly, if the group should be fearing for their lives.

After not much story or character exploration from its predecessor, The Scorch Trials makes more of an effort to right wrongs and really sink its teeth into James Dashner’s YA novel series. Admittedly, the character exploration could still go deeper – who really is Thomas? Who are any of these kids? Why should be care about them? – but the story starts to open up a lot more, and we get to see more of the world beyond the maze, the world that has become almost unrecognisable, scorched by the sun and a breeding ground for Cranks.

A lot of the film’s excitement comes from the existence of the Cranks, or humans who had been infected by the mysterious Flare virus. Zombie-like in manner, they are contagious, vaguely intelligent and damn fast. They also have a terrible habit of staging elaborate jump scares, hence the whole excitement thing. Aside from the Cranks, The Scorch Trials is more or less a Point A to Point B movie with an element of mystery, seeing as the group don’t really know what Point B is just yet.

Run-ins with WCKD helicopters, more Cranks and hidden communities make it a lot more interesting than when they spent their days running around mazes and dodging Greavers.

One thing the first film had going for it was its stunning visual effects. Happily, they continue to be stunning here too, and stretch from the technologically advanced WCKD labs to the sun-kissed mountains to the lightning-struck plains.

Even when engagement levels are low in the midst of a poorly executed love triangle or a moment of silent teenage angst, the effects continue to be epic and fabulous, and provide something to look at to avoid zoning out for a few minutes.

The young cast is strong but unremarkable. They carry the film well enough, but don’t particularly stand out on the spectrum of YA actors. There are no J-Laws here. The older cast, however, is rather special. Game Of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen is charming, sinister and wonderfully Irish as Janson, the man in charge of the underground WCKD compound, Giancarlo Esposito makes for an intriguing can-we-trust-him father figure Jorge, and Patricia Clarkson is on form as always as WCKD head honcho Ava Paige who we glimpsed at the end of the first film.

Unfortunately, we only get to spend about ten minutes with her this time, but Clarkson is sure to shine in the conclusive The Death Cure if utilised correctly. There’s also a fun appearance from Firefly’s Alan Tudyk as an eye-linered, ring-fingered, permanently intoxicated rave club owner Marcus.

Unless The Death Cure is mind-blowing, it’s unlikely The Scorch Trials will be remembered long into the future or make as much of an impact as The Hunger Games has, but it makes for a fun ride.