If you left the original Maze Runner with burning questions about the logic of the maze creator’s plan or why a solar event caused a bloodborne disease that can only be cured by immune teenagers’ stress (even though none of the teens seemed very immune when bit by cyborg-spider-scorpions), be prepared to find none of those answers in the follow-up. In fact Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials brings up even more questions and answers none of them.
The sequel picks up right where the original left off, with the Gladers being “rescued” and taken off into the Scorch to another massive, mysterious base. It seems that after this as yet unnamed solar event, mankind put all of its resources into building grand, secret bases and multiple city-sized mazes. In any case, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) quickly learns that all is not as it seems and that everybody is still after his and the other Gladers’ precious teenage brain stress juice.
Scorch Trials’s cast includes many familiar faces from film and TV, but only a couple of the new characters stand out. The antagonist Janson (Aidan Gillen, best known as Littlefinger on Game of Thrones) doesn’t get much to do after the first act. Nathalie Emmanuel as Harriet (Missandei on Game of Thrones) is introduced but only has a couple of lines. Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge (Gus on Breaking Bad) is the only new cast member that gets an opportunity to make an impression and show a bit of his range. Jorge has a shifting relationship with the Gladers and gets plenty of time to show his acting chops. Rounding out the cast are Barry Pepper and Alan Tudyk, both with predictably type-cast roles: Pepper as a soldier and Tudyk as a crazy person.
While Maze Runner was filled with characters trying to figure out the mystery with the audience, in Scorch Trials the characters don’t seem to care one bit about all the big, unanswered questions, and unfortunately the Scorch isn’t even the biggest threat. The biggest threat to the Gladers as they traverse the scorch is zombies. Yes, there they are right in the opening couple of minutes: a pack of zombies in a PG-13 movie. Zombies should not be in a PG-13 movie. They just don’t have any bite if we can’t see the gore they cause. Of course, there are no answers on why this disease somehow caused by the sun somehow causes zombieism.
There is plenty of good old-fashioned action, including chasing, fighting, and a couple of grand set pieces, but the whole thing seems to run out of steam by the third act and the cliffhanger is predictably dumb and underwhelming. By the end there is little hope of getting any answers even in the next film, and at the same time it is extremely reminiscent of the ending of the most recent Hunger Games film. Not having read the source material, it’s hard to say whether these flaws come from that or from the script (written by one of the writers from the recent Fantastic Four reboot. Ouch). In any case, the whole thing is mindless yet still entertaining thanks to a talented cast with lots of familiar faces.
Unfortunately, Scorch Trials neither lives up to its name nor its predecessor and leaves you with as much hope for the third installment as the writers of these dystopian franchises seem to have for the future. If all you’re interested in is CGI and action—or you’re 14 years old—this movie is for you. If you absolutely need your Sci-fi mumbo-jumbo to stand up to any sort of scrutiny, you’re as out of luck as a teenager in any of the young adult dystopian franchises out there.