The methadone to Hunger Games’ heroin, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is the sequel to 2014’s genuinely-not-bad The Maze Runner, which is itself also genuinely-not-bad.
This is despite there being no mazes, no trials and almost nothing getting scorched. Running, however… running it has by the marathon. With its young leads – Dylan O’Brien‘s Thomas, Thomas Brodie-Sangster‘s Newt, Ki Hong Lee‘s Minho and Kaya Scodelario‘s Teresa – hot footing it out of a maze in the last film, “The Gladers” (as they’re called) are offered mere minutes of respite in a sinister medical facility before pegging it into the post-apocalyptic wasteland.
It’s difficult not to compare “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” to the numerous sources from which it clearly derives inspiration – and sometimes uncanny similarities. The persecuted innocents and manipulative oppressors parallel the protagonist and antagonist dynamics present in both “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” while the unorthodox and immoral methods of finding a cure for a deadly plague closely mimic a variety of modern zombie flicks. Even a large segment of imagery involving a frenzied escape from crackling undead monstrosities through dilapidated buildings bears a striking resemblance to the award-winning video game “The Last of Us.” But to its credit (despite the majority of “The Scorch Trials” echoing elements of other entities), the suspense, adventure, and agreeable cast of quick-witted youths instill the project with decent amounts of energy.
Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – the film features so much running, there’s precious little time to work out what’s going on. As a result, much of the dialog descends into blasts of “Get outta here!” and “Run!”, leaving anyone playing a “Let’s go!” drinking game comatose by the end of the first act.
Like the Divergent series, the Maze Runner franchise is undermined by its more-mysterious-than-thou premise. The final reveal is in the final film, and until then, you have to bob along in the white water and enjoy the ride. “Why are there mazes?”, “Why do some kids have their memory erased?” and “Will anyone say ‘Scorchio!’?” are just a few of The Scorch Trials‘ many unanswerable headscratchers.
If you’re willing to ignore the whys and hows – or happen to have read all of James Dashner‘s books in advance – The Scorch Trials rattles along like a wooden rollercoaster you’re pretty sure isn’t going to break halfway up a loop. If you’re not, then this Episode II may feel empty and unsatisfying.
Instead of giving audiences a glimpse or two into the inner workings of the experiments – or even a relevancy to the events of the first film – this middle segment is basically content connecting the introduction of the roles with the finale. Momentary refuge from an evil organization’s human-harvesting scheme or the hardships imposed by memory-wiped gladiatorial games serves as filler before the next set of harrowing obstacles. This pervasive feeling of “out of the frying pan and into the fire” is handled quite nicely by returning director Wes Ball, who keeps the pacing tight and the paranoia high.
Unfortunately, by the end, there are still too many unanswered questions. And explanations that are known by the lead characters go specifically un-discussed, just to string audiences along. At least the young adult heroes aren’t thrust into another maze or forced to undergo additional death-defying tribulations solely to produce extra adrenaline (or alien enzymes) to manipulate blood pressure and cardiac output. Or are they?
The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is in theaters now!