As the second film in a series, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials has its work cut out for it. It has to function as a bridge between 2014’s The Maze Runner and the upcoming Maze Runner: The Death Cure, but is also has to work on its own as a halfway entertaining picture. And it is entertaining, with plenty of kinetic energy giving the mediocre underpinning a boost.
This 2015 movie is based on the novel of the same name by James Dasher. Wes Ball is back in the director’s chair, while the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin has the task of refining the dystopic airs of the genre into something compelling. Unfortunately, the world of The Scorch Trials offers little by way of innovation. With the skin of the Glade shed, Ball’s sequel renounces its novelty.
The movie picks up where The Maze Runner left off, with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and a group of survivors from the Glade hanging out in some sort of research facility. The joint is suspicious and it isn’t long before Thomas is crawling around with Aris (Jacob Lofland) to peer into some dark secrets. He finds that it’s actually a WCKD facility, which is bad.
Thomas rescues Teresa (Kayla Scodelario) and escapes the facility along with several other Gladers, but the outside world is a precarious place. WCKD hunts them, plus there are zombie-like ghouls to run from and collapsing buildings to avoid. There are also other groups working out a living, with Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) heading up a particularly beneficial gang.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is a typical quest storyline, with a group of people trying to get from one place to another. They face many wrinkles along the way, like a lightning storm and the aforementioned zombie-like creatures. There is also a virus known as the Flare and there are hints of sexuality when Thomas and Brenda show up at a slinky get-together.
But there’s no life. The Maze Runner made great use of the confines of the Glade, with the characters turning on each other and plumbing their own psychological depths. It kept things mostly surface-level, but there were hints of such concepts as the makeshift hierarchy of power and other Lord of the Flies elements. With their escape from the Glade ancient history, the irons are off.
As much as The Scorch Trials tries to commence with a similarly claustrophobic feel in the mysterious WCKD facility, it branches out too quickly and loses sight of any pull. The world expands as anticipated patches of dystopic chestnuts, with more wan layouts than necessary and plenty of open spaces in which to ponder absolutely nothing.
Ball and cinematographer Gyula Pados keep things strictly business with a few rare exceptions. One such allowance finds Brenda and Thomas steering a path away from a pack of Cranks. The teens scramble through an tilted high-rise and Pados uses the cracking glass well, working the angles to incite just the right amount of chill.
Sadly, this spike of tension isn’t the norm. The Scorch Trials summons none of the danger or oddness of its forerunner. It fights through the streets and corridors with too much breadth. When the pace picks up for the final act, Ball drills it with typical mountain-action stuff and there’s no voltage.
There are a lot of characters in The Scorch Trials and that makes it difficult to really associate with the plight of anyone. The performers are adept, with O’Brien drawing a charismatic lead and Salazar livening up the joint. Alan Tudyk shows up as the sort of guy who leads young people astray by plying them with strange drinks.
There are opportunities to play with the sex, violence and decay of The Scorch Trials, but Ball seems to be going through the motions. This is a standard sequel in every way. It’s not without entertainment value and things move at a fair click, but there’s no soul, suspense or substance. Neither good nor wicked, it’s just a footrace to the next one.