Once again The Maze Runner distinguishes itself as the superior YA film adaptation. This time it is The Scorch Trials that out muscles and out stories the inferior Hunger Games.

Scorch Trials picks up where the first film lets off. The survivors of the maze are picked up by a helicopter that is supposed to bring them to safety. But audience members know the truth, that the WCKD organization’s grasp is still tightly wound around fate of these youths. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow Gladers are brought to a facility where they quickly discover that their maze wasn’t the only testing location. Realizing that WCKD is still around them, they escape to an unprotected land known as the Scorch, a deserted wasteland filled with unexpected dangers.  While there they team up with resistance fighters, hoping to once and for all rid destroy WCKD’s power

Admittedly, I never read The Maze Runner series, so I can’t really compare the film to the book. In a way, that makes me better at critiquing and reviewing the Scorch Trials as a film, untainted by expectations and bias. As a film, The Maze Runner’s second film is exciting and atmospheric, well acted and engaging to the final minute.

The luck and benefit of adapting a novel into a film is that the major plot trajectory and holes have already been ironed out for you. Sure, you can take creative liberties as you truncate the story for the cinema, but you really have to obliterate it beyond recognition to destroy the cohesiveness as a film.  The smartest thing executives behind this franchise did was keep the same screenwriter (T.S. Nowlin) and director (Wes Ball) across both films. What you get is a cohesive narrative with a clear vision, unencumbered by creative conflict and changes personal taste.

Wes Ball is really great at capturing the atmosphere of a wasteland without making the environment feel cheap. Ball knows the story and characters and it translates in the care he has for the material. Following the plot, I very rarely was left wondering or with the inclination that what I was watching was changed from the original source material. It’s common knowledge that the film would be simplified in comparison, as is true for nearly all book adaptations to film, but Nowlin captures the essence without sacrificing substance.

In flying under the radar and in the shadow of the blockbuster marketing endeavor known as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner has set itself up for an understated success. Knowing that the films have changed the story slightly from that of James Dashner’s novel, I’m curious to see how the resolution fares in the final film – The Death Cure.