This is the second in Fox’s adaptation of the dystopian YA book series by best-selling author James Dashner that began with The Maze Runner last year about this time.  Though I was not a big fan of the first film, this one broke with sequel tradition and was, for me at least, a lot more enjoyable film than the first, a pleasant surprise.

The story picks up right where last year’s film left off, with Thomas (Dylan O’Bryan) and his motley crew of escapees from The Maze spirited away to safety by the mysterious Janson, played deliciously by Aiden Gillen, a duplicitous savior nearly as slippery as Gillen’s more recognizable character, the conniving Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  Thomas and friends are brought into one of those “too good to be true” compounds where all is happiness and light–except that their female companion Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is separated from them and no one will tell Thomas where she is.  And a smallish gutter-snipe (literally) named Aris (Jacob Lofland) pops up into Thomas’s room one night and takes him to Janson’s secret lab where Thomas discovers what’s really up in this “perfect” little world (note; always beware of perfect little worlds in dystopian YA fiction).

So the crew is on the run again, this time out into the Scorch, mankind’s name for what’s left of the Earth, and a very apropos name it is.  Their aim is to meet up with a group of rebels in the far-off mountains whose goal is to take down the Maze-based establishment run by the snow-white clad leader Ava (Patricia Clarkson–note; beware of snow-white clad leaders of the establishment in dystopian YA fiction), which they do after many trials (thus the name…) and tribulations, only to find they’ve been betrayed by one of their own, who leads Ava straight to them that results in a battle royale that sets up things nicely for the last film of this trilogy.  I think it was the sense of movement and the strong performances of both O’Bryan and his entire crew of cohorts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores) along with newcomer Rosa Salazar as Brenda, one of the mountain clan, and Giancarlo Esposito as her father (a role nearly as slippery as his more recognizable character; snake-like Major Tom Neville in NBC’s sadly canceled sic-fi series Revolution) that made this so much more fun for me than the first film.  Nice to be out in the wide open spaces, and have action that involves more than just running around endless walls of hedges.

With the final film in this series slated to come out in 2017, and the final episodes of The Hunger Games and The Divergent Trilogy to come out by then or before, we’ll finally ring up the end to Hollywood’s waning love affair with YA dystopian novels, a teen trend that has long since stopped “trending.”  While the gross box office for each series is already in the billions for Lionsgate/Summit, who produced both Hunger Games and Divergent and might just make it to a billion for Fox, and launched the adult careers of several bona fide stars who could well dominate the Hollywood A-list for decades (O’Bryan, Jennifer Lawrence, Shalene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Josh Hutchinson, Jai Courtney, Ansel Elgort, and others…), hundreds of millions more were lost and many more fine young actors relegated to the back burners as each of the various studios ran through YA book series after book series describing every grim dystopia imaginable in desperate pursuit of “the next Hunger Games” only to find the target audience as fickle as teens and young adults always are.  The Hollywood gods should have known better.

Perhaps a lesson has been learned–that searching for the next NEW thing (which is how The Hunger Games was found) would be far more profitable than searching for the next imitation of what is already an old thing.  And if that’s the case, then maybe, just maybe, all the carnage of the YA dystopian book series adaptation era will have been worth it.

We can always hope so, anyway…