Whatever you do in this life, learn from the best. For the follow-up to his sleeper hit debut The Maze Runner, director Wes Ball sat down again and watched the 'middle' movies in trilogies, The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom among them. The swotting served him well: this is a gripping post-apocalyptic chase movie that expands and improves the universe of the first film and suggests Ball will be one of those household name directors before too long.

Picking up right after last year's breakout (pun intended), Scorch Trials finds hero Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his comrades from former home/prison the Glade embedded in their rescuers' base. But who can they really trust with time running out for humanity?

Ball showed with The Maze Runner that he could deliver the goods on a tight Hollywood budget ($35m making $340m at the box office); with more money to 'play' with here he really lets rip in terms of set-pieces. Even those who know the classics inside out may be surprised at just how much they get caught up in this YA adventure – Scorch Trials is two hours and 15 minutes long but, a few talkie moments aside, doesn't feel like it. Along with Ball's pre-production watchlist there are elements of Escape from New York, Day of the Dead and The Omega Man here, with newcomer O'Brien really growing into the hero role and some older heads – Aidan Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Barry Pepper and Lili Taylor – giving the story more weight.

Scorch Trials passes the ultimate test: it's worth a second viewing. Now, hopefully Ball will hurry up with film number three. If what happens here is anything to go by, we don't need to worry about anything Ewokish.

Harry Guerin