“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” Movie Review

     Continuing the YA craze that, along with comic book movies, has gripped all of Hollywood after the undeniable success of “The Hunger Games” franchise, 20th Century Fox is back just a year after the first entry with the sequel “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.”  The title of which likely needs the prefix so people can identify that this is indeed a sequel to last year’s “The Maze Runner”, even though the kids aren’t running around any mazes this time around.  Instead, director Wes Ball, returning to helm for a second go around, leads the group on a completely different adventure which in the end plays to a confusing and unsatisfying conclusion much like the first entry.  The basic premise, which mimics nearly all films of the genre, still features a good looking, well groomed young cast who questions those in authority and seemingly rebels against their every move.  Sure, these films always take place in a bleak dystopian setting, butthe message here tells us young people will rise against an evil and elitist government in order to shape their own futures.  It’s a fine story to build a film around, but after sitting through three going on four “Hunger Games” films, and two going on three “Divergent” films, plus the first in this series, I suppose it’s natural to ask if this genre has already worn woefully thin in the storytelling department.

     Back to adapt James Dashner’s second novel after also adapting the first, screenwriter T.S. Nowlin is still struggling with giving any of his characters actual personality.  They all come off as a perfectly chosen group of diverse late teens who are merely stand ins for the film’s plethora of action sequences that start right where the last film left off.  They run somewhere, then stop.  Then they run some more, but never quip a single line of memorable dialogue.  The core group of survivors, led by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), returns Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores), all of which arrive via helicopter at a remote outpost in which they believe they have been saved from the clutches of W.C.K.D. (World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department). 

     If you’re a fan of the television show “Game of Thrones”, than the first sight of the guy who’s in charge of the outpost and claims to be there to help will give you pause and rouse your suspicion.  If you need an actor to play a wormy character than Aiden Gillen is your man these days, especially when he employs his mischievous Lord “Littlefinger” Baelish accent as Janson and only shows up during scenes that further the evil doings of the bad guys.  Thomas sniffs this out immediately, while the others are just happy to have food and shelter away from the dangers of the Glade and the Maze.  There are others there too who speak of having been in other mazes, but somehow managed to escape.  Each night at dinner, Janson arrives with a list of kids who are said to be transported to a permanent home where they will forever be safe.  Not buying into this at all, Thomas is befriended by a loner named Aris who has something to share with him.

     In one of the silliest plot devices you’ll ever see in film that is meant to be serious, Aris arrives in the barracks room Thomas and his fellow first film survivors sleep in via an unsecured floor vent.  Since they are locked into this room each night like a prison and are clearly not allowed to leave, you would think the people running the joint would’ve thought to bolt the vent into the wall.  Because they didn’t think of this, Aris simply pushes the vent frame from the wall and this allows Thomas to crawl in with him and have their way about the entire facility.  Of course this leads them to find not all is as they were led to believe with Janson and his minions performing experiments on the kids said to be leaving the facility under the direction of Ava Page (Patricia Clarkson), the apparent leader of W.C.K.D. from the last scene of the first film.  This sequence is also where I realized Ball and his designers might’ve taken a few too many cues from Cameron’s classic film “Aliens” as Thomas and Aris explore a lab growing baby versions of the Grievers, the main threat of the first film.  They are immersed in vertical containers filled with water and will instantly call you back to the scene where the Marines discover face huggers in a lab stored exactly the same way.  In addition, the hallways, rooms, and doors seem to be decorated exactly like the sets used for the colony on LV-426 with its yellow emergency lights, gray and black paint scheme, and large thick mechanical doors.  When the inevitable escape attempt occurs and Thomas leads his group out of there, the similarities become even more glaring.

     But then “The Scorch Trials” changes gears and becomes something crossed with “Mad Max” and “Resident Evil” as the group is stalked by floods of really fast and nasty “World War Z” style zombies called Cranks.  As is explained, these kids apparently hold the keys to the cure for the disease that causes people to turn into zombies because of some kind of generational genetics.  Why that meant putting them in the Glade in the first film and having them in harms way by allowing them to explore the Maze is something which still hasn’t been explained.  This second chapter seems to solely focus on the events of what is primarily a road or chase film as the group makes its way through a hot desert with little or no water, knowing both legions of Cranks and Janson are always just steps behind them. 

     Ball, as he did expertly in the first film, has managed to create a number of inventive and well thought out action sequences.  One such scene takes place through the rubble of two sky scrapers that have fallen into each other as Thomas and a new character named Brenda (Rosa Salazar) attempt to allude both Cranks and the unstable terrain.  There’s also a memorable scene that features the Patsy Cline song “Walkin' After Midnight” in one of the more creative uses of music in a feature film that I’ve seen in quite a sometime.  While these scenes are always entertaining to look at, it’s still a challenge to get past the fact Ball and his team still after two films haven’t given us anyone worth rooting for.  Even worse, in order to get the answers that will some how make sense of all of this, we now have to remain in a holding pattern until 2017 and the release of the third film “The Death Cure”.  GRADE: C