MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS September 9, 2015 MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (USA/12/131mins) Directed by Wes Ball. Starring Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Katherine McNamara, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper, Lili Taylor, Nathalie Emmanuel. THE PLOT: It’s still the end of the world, or thereabouts, and lead Glader Thomas (O’Brien) and his fellow teen maze survivors have been taken to an industrial underground lair, the suave Janson (Gillen) promising them all they’re about to be brought to the promised land. They just have to sit tight, and each will eventually be called. Thomas has his suspicions about this particular paradise confirmed when another maze survivor, Aris (Lofland), shows him where the daily chosen ten actually end up – hanging on hooks as they’re harvested for their old friends WCKD (aka World Catastrophe Killzone Department). Naturally, Thomas leads a dramatic escape, and these fiesty teens are soon battling demons and reflecting on life, love and the promised land as they trek across a post-apocalyptic America… THE VERDICT: It’s a franchise that might as well be redubbed The Meh Runner, given just how pedestrian, and largely aimless, these mid-budget adaptations of James Dashner teen novels have been so far. Plainly hoping to get a little of that Twilight and Hunger Games box-office lovin’, The Maze Runner franchise will no doubt give everyone involved a wage, but it’s far from being the worldwide franchise hit Fox would have hoped for. And on the strenght of The Scorch Trials, its audience is likely to get smaller rather than bigger. The plotting is pure videogame, as out small team of teen survivors face dangerous set after dangerous set, fighting off zombies, the military and, most frightening of all, sidewinder Aidan Gillen. The Irish actor is the king of playing snakes in the grass – so much so, you pretty know from the start that this good Samaritan is the devil in chic clothing. “I’m tired of running,” states leading man Dylan O’Brien at one point, and by the end of this achingly so-so movie, so too will you. RATING: 2.5/5 Review by Paul Byrne MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS2015-09-092.5Overall Score filmbuff2011 Based on the series of books by James Dashner, The Maze Runner was a tight, action-packed and surprisingly gritty film, even with substantial cuts of 43 seconds in order to get a 12A. Further cuts have been imposed on its sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials but it’s still ended up with a 15A. Maybe someone in 20th Century Fox might realise that this franchise isn’t for children. Having escaped the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his surviving Glader friends Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are taken under the wing of Janson (Aidan Gillen). But Janson can’t be trusted and is actually working for WCKD, the ‘wicked’ and sinister organisation that has ulterior motives and plans for Thomas and his friends. Fleeing Janson’s underground facility, the Gladers find themselves facing a new challenge: The Scorch. It’s a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland full of immediate dangers. Forget the Grievers of the first film. The new threat is from ‘cranks’, zombies infected by the Flare virus. The Gladers head for the hills with Janson in pursuit. They hope to find refuge with the rumoured resistance fighters in the hills. Thomas has to face up to his future – he may be the key to saving mankind from extinction… The Scorch Trials follows the tried-and-tested sequel formula of going darker and more menacing, hence the 15A. This has mixed results. If the first film was a straightforward set-’em-up-and-knock-’em-down frantic chase thriller, then the sequel is about expanding the universe of the franchise, developing the characters more and setting up a third, final, act, The Death Cure (not a great title, admittedly). It’s quite a different beast to the first film, taking away the confined setting and instead introducing a lot of new characters, some of whom barely register (e.g. Lili Taylor’s former WCKD scientist). Returning director Wes Ball stages some tense sequences that are exciting, like a skyscraper encounter with a crank. Sadly, there aren’t enough of them. It’s a film that feels lost, trying to make sense of this brave new world – a bit like Thomas himself. Having initially set itself apart from rival franchise The Hunger Games, it’s disappointing to see The Maze Runner playing out some plot points (betrayal, uncertain loyalties, one person taking a stand) that are already familiar from The Hunger Games. Not having read the books, this reviewer was hoping for something more original and nail-biting like the first film. Instead, it just feels distinctly average. The Scorch Trials is a typical middle film in a trilogy that is caught between a beginning and a conclusion and isn’t satisfying enough as a result. Perhaps The Death Cure can solve some of the pacing problems (The Scorch Trials is overlong at 131 minutes) and build towards a rousing finale. Maybe. ** Louise Corrigan Terrible, but perfectly terrible brainless joy. A group of lads escape a place, have a Mad Max/Lord of the Flies esque thing going on. Then there’s zombies. Then drugs – why not? Sets up for the (I assume) final film, which shall be equally OTT action for teenagers. In fairness, the leading guy is decent and should have been the new Spiderman.