The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, Wes Ball, Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, 20th Century Fox

Out tomorrow! Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

It’s not often a sequel equals the original, but the second installment of the Maze Runner franchise manages to do just that. Although not exactly a carbon copy of the book (written by James Dashner), the film works well as just that; a film. The Scorch Trials picks up where The Maze Runner left off, and continues the journey of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers as they encounter their latest and greatest challenge; the quest for clues about the sinister, prolific organisation known as WCKD (pronounced “wicked”…go figure).

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After escaping the clutches of WCKD, they find their way to the Scorch, a desolate landscape filled with terrors. Teaming up with resistance fighters Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Vince (Giancarlo Esposito), the Gladers take on WCKD’s vastly superior forces and uncover its shocking plans for them all. It is a story of courage, love, betrayal, and the burning desire to fight for what is right against any and all obstacles. Formulaic fodder for a Hollywood adaptation.

Like most sequels, The Scorch Trials hits the ground running, but instead of grinding to a halt (as many do), it continues running right to the very last second. Whether this is because of the rich material it is based on, or excellent direction of that material, or a combination of the two, I’m not sure. But whatever the combo is, it works.

The film portrays a nice combination of fast-paced action, tear-jerky moments, and a continuous sense of urgency. Not once does it slow to a plod, yet it never feels rushed; a difficult balance to strike. Although the story has a sense of the middle-of-a-trilogy-bridging-plot where not much happens, this is quickly forgotten. It is a film of contrast; everything from the design to the screenplay to the score is constantly changing. This pumps up the plot and gives the audience a real sense of a physical and inner journey.

The young cast is all around solid, if a little on the archetypical side. Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee do a great job of portraying the typical friends-of-the-protagonist roles. However, speaking of the protagonist, special mention must be made of Dylan O’Brien’s truly excellent performance as Thomas, the leader of the Gladers. His character is in equal parts Hamlet and the Byronic hero; a heady combination of barely suppressed passion and intense sensitivity that is not easy for a young actor to master.

There is a temptation with this type of role to be either over-cooked or under-par, but O’Brien manages to avoid both of these traps. He beautifully and truthfully treads an often neglected middle ground between quiet and histrionic. Although the script conveys Thomas as indestructible, O’Brien gives him a distinct sense of fallibility. He is both ethereal and relatable; an essential combination in a setting that is otherwise unbelievable.

As for the setting – holy hell. From the blanched, electric white corridors of the WCKD headquarters to the dingy almost darkness of the Flare-sufferer infested dungeons to the stark desert of the Scorch, this film is a visual feast. The CGI is also impressive and leaves nothing to the imagination.

The idea of a constant flux between safety and peril works extremely well and is thoroughly entertaining. More than once I nearly jumped out of my seat, gripping the armrests with whitened knuckles, willing the Gladers to escape the latest danger unscathed. This after being lulled into a false sense of security by a preceding break in the journey. When bolts of lightning rained down from the sky, threatening to kill our favourite characters, I was on the edge of my seat, not breathing until (spoiler alert!) they made it to safety and slammed that iron door behind them. And I’ll happily admit to a few tears during some pretty poignant scenes.

As for the score; it is a work of art. John Paesano’s scoring (The Maze Runner, DaredevilWhen the Game Stands TallDreamworks Dragons) was the first thing that struck me. It displays enormous variety in full and rich orchestration of sweeping landscape shots, right down to the sinister strings setting up the next traumatic chase. If you’re a fan of film music, go see this movie ASAP.

Overall, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a rollicking yet terrifying ride which, although very occasionally flawed in its plot, keeps you entirely engaged from start to finish. And come on; it’s seriously tricky to adapt a novel to a screenplay, especially a sequel. It works as a movie, it works in its sci-fi/fantasy/apocalyptic-warning hybrid genre, and is a film you can enjoy more than once. To director Wes Ball, I say bravo!

Image via Facebook.com/MazeRunnerMovie