‘The Scorch Trials’ transitions toward formula YA

In the last five years, films based on young adult novels have made quite the splash at the box office, with such films as “Divergent,” “The Hunger Games” and the more recent “Maze Runner” films.

When the first “Runner” film was released, it was a surprise hit at the box office, earning $102 million in just the U.S. alone off of a reportedly $34 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo, which helped to greenlight the sequel, “The Scorch Trials.”

Another major success with the first film is that its story, whether faithful to the book or not, it still was vastly different and intriguing compared to other young adult adaptations to day, breathing fresh life into the genre.

The plot of the first one, in which they dropped kids in the middle of a dense area with a maze that’s full of traps and is constantly changing, was very breathtaking and heart-racing in how it raises more questions than answers and keeps the audience on the edge of their seat the whole time. It feels very much like a combination of the novel, “Lord of the Flies” and the 1997 film, “Cube.”

Its follow-up, “The Scorch Trials,” does not capture the same aura of mystery and suspense as the first, however. We are immediately thrust into the action of the new plot, taking place right where the first one ended, in which Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends are picked up by those claiming to help them escape the maze.

Not all is how it seems, however, as the people who “rescued” the group from the maze turns out to be the same people that apparently put them there: the corporation W.C.K.D., who are out to find a cure for The Flare virus that has wiped out most of the population that survived the Earth being scorched from the sun, but are going about it in really dark and evil ways.

The group escapes the compound they’re staying in and out into the barren wasteland of an unknown large city now known as the Scorch. While trying to search for a safe place away from W.C.K.D., they also hope to find a fabled group known as the Right Arm, with the hopes that they’ll protect the group from W.C.K.D.

The film starts off with a very solid first half, introducing some truly intriguing questions and suspense in its deceitful characters. We get the feeling from the moment Thomas sits down with Janson, aka the Rat-Man (Aidan Gillen), that something is not right here and that there is more than meets the eye. The screenplay and the performances set this up nicely.

After their escape, we are then thrown into incredibly skillful and almost non-stop action, giving us a few W.C.K.D. fight scenes and chases but more importantly (and more in numbers), lots and lots of zombies, called Cranks in the “Runner” universe.

Director Wes Ball, whose directorial debut was the first “Runner” film, continues to show his skills in this film, creating a number of memorable action sequences and shots, as well as a few really creepy and scary scenes involving the Cranks. His close-up camera angles and fast-moving slightly-shaky pursuit angles really draw audiences in and keep us involved.

The cinematographers, taking instructions from Ball, create some truly incredible shots, one of the most memorable being a profile of the characters walking in a line across a dune and pausing as one of the escapees commits suicide to avoid changing into a Crank after an attack. The dramatic pause, and the distanced angle really adds emotion to the already impactful scene.

The performances throughout the film are pretty strong, especially from leads Dylan O’Brien and Ki Hong Lee. O’Brien shows more skills in his strong leadership, but also shows some emotional restraint in how to lead his friends.

All of these strengths, however, are brought down by a very formulaic and dull fourth quarter. The film turns into a typical young adult adaptation in pitting the group up against some unbeatable and powerful entity, and teaming them up with a form of rebellious army. It no longer feels like the original storyline of the first, and feels a little bit more like a carbon copy of films like “Divergent” and “The Hunger Games.”

The story also introduces a heavier potential romantic element, which, as just mentioned, is too similar to previous YA adaptations. If it becomes heavier in the next, and final, film, it will truly be more disappointing and unoriginal.

Overall, the action, visual effects and performances save this movie from its devolution into the same, boring formula of young adult adaptations being too distracting.

Last Updated: Sept. 28