Despite naysaying from cinephiles, the young adult book to film genre has become a gold mine for movie studios. Thanks to modest budgets, dedicated fan followings, and (most importantly) enormous global box office returns, YA movies have the potential to earn enormous returns for producers. Not every adaptation will achieve The Hunger Games series success (which have earned 2.3 billion in global ticket sales), and there have been plenty of inexpensive duds (example: Beautiful Creatures) but even lesser-known YA stories still turn large profits - including 2014's The Maze Runner.
The Maze Runner earned a positive, albeit unenthusiastic, response from critics (read our Maze Runner review) but still managed to secure over $340 million around the world. That might not sound like much when compared to The Avengers: Age of Ultron's 1.1 billion take (so far) but, where Marvel spent $250 million developing their superhero team-up, The Maze Runner only cost $34 million to produce - a low risk, with solid reward. Thanks to a tenfold return, a sequel was announced long before the movie even hit Blu-ray. Now, we're getting our first look at The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.
While many enjoyed The Maze Runner's setup, big screen interpretation of the "Maze Trials," and its beastly inhabitants (Grievers), many casual viewers were put-off by the film's ending. Instead of telling a complete story, with a sense of completion and character evolution, The Maze Runner film ultimately came across as the first act in a three-part play - leaving audiences with more questions than answers.
As a result, the first trailer for The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (read: The Maze Runner: There is No Maze This Time), appears to continue the first film's guarded approach to storytelling (while outright spoiling key story beats from the film). Shady conspiracies and dubious people of authority make it hard to know what is real and what is part of an overarching "test" (at least for viewers who are unfamiliar with the source novel series). Additionally, standard elements of the YA genre that were subdued in the first movie, most notably the absence of on-the-nose romance between stars Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), look to get a heavier emphasis this round.
That said, while The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials may be on a collision course with familiar plots (misguided ruling bodies in post-apocalyptic Earth) and character arcs (an unlikely hero must take a stand to save humanity) that have been explored in countless YA movies before it; yet, there's still room to be optimistic that the second chapter will be just as entertaining as the first (even if the balance between melodrama and intriguing answers is disproportionate).
Amidst a host of not-so-subtle world-building - full of nondescript names like Grievers, WCKD, Gladers, Safe Haven, The Scorch, and The Flare, among others - there is an interesting idea at The Maze Runner series core: testing youth, through a series of life-threatening trials, to weed out the weak and reveal those strong enough to lead the next phase of humanity. To that end, success of the series going forward will rely heavily on the direction, and overall execution, of returning helmer Wes Ball.
The Maze Runner was Ball's directorial debut - and, overall, the filmmaker succeeded. With a solid cast, that now includes Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones fan-favorites Giancarlo Esposito as well as Aidan Gillen, and the Maze Runner foundation already established, Ball has the necessary talent to keep audiences engaged in Thomas' story - assuming he doesn't get too bogged down in the (weirder) elements that novelist/creator James Dashner injected into The Scorch Trials.
Nevertheless, with the final chapter, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, already scheduled for release in 2017, it's easy to imagine The Scorch Trials won't skirt from setting up the third installment - potentially at the expense of a standalone movie experience. The first film was memorable because of the mystery and unique setup surrounding the maze. If the second film is relegated to underground laboratories and post-apocalyptic "scorched" earth, viewers who are not die-hard fans of Dashner's books may find the Maze Runner film franchise retreads too many concepts that have already been explored in bigger (and higher-profile) productions, including The Hunger Games and Divergent.
If nothing else, at least Ball (and 20th Century Fox) have agreed to avoid the cursed final book to movie cash grab split - promising that The Death Cure story will be told in a single film, rather than two. That has to count for something, right?
The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials opens in U.S theaters on September 18th, 2015, followed by The Maze Runner: The Death Cure in February 17th, 2017.