The first “Maze Runner” film nailed the title. There was a maze, and there was running. The “Maze Runner” sequel, not so much. There’s no maze, although there is a lot of running. In fact, the characters in the movie do little else. They run, and run, and run, until it seems there’s nowhere else to run, and then they run some more. I kept hoping they’d stop so I could catch my breath.
There is the added bonus of a subtitle: “The Scorch Trials.” But the people who made the movie got that only half right, too. The characters the film follows are trapped in something called the Scorch, which I believe is a synonym for “outside.” The “Maze Runner” movies are set in a post-apocalyptic world, so cities have been reduced to dusty rubble, and the rest of the world to just dust. So, yeah, I can see why they used the word “Scorch.” But I don’t get the use of the word “Trials.” There are no trials, unless they’re referring to the experience of sitting through the film.
I liked the original film, in which a group of young males find themselves trapped in the center of a massive maze, where they have everything they need to survive except their memories. The maze itself is a shifting labyrinth populated with half robotic, half organic, spider-like creatures that make escape difficult. The story winds up being a pile of horse apples, though, as at the end we learn that an organization called W.I.C.K.E.D. put the youth there to study why they’re immune to a disease that has infected most of the human population. I’m not sure why they needed the maze, or the monsters, to help them find a cure, but OK. The direction was smart, I liked the cast, and the film did a good job of keeping me interested until the big reveal.
What little remains of the original cast is back for the sequel, and darned if they don’t look like they wish they were back in the maze. After being rescued at the end of the first film, the half dozen or so teens quickly find themselves running away from the very people who saved them. They wind up in the Scorch, where they then run from infected humans, lightning storms, and one group of bad guys after another.
Thomas, the main character in the first film, is back, although his role has been reduced to yelling “Run!” Everyone else just stands rooted to the spot until he snaps them out of their stupor. Thomas doesn’t do them much good, though, since they’re always getting captured and marched in chains to see the leader of yet another band of grimy desert dwellers.
For all of the running its characters do, “Maze Runner 2” has little direction. Although the group seems to make a half-hearted stab at finding a rumored oasis in the mountains (only Thomas really wants to go; everyone else objects because the scripts tells them to), the film is a mash up of tired sci-fi story tropes and sketchy character motivations.
For example, if an infected human bites someone, the victim gets sick, too, even if they’re immune to the virus. (No, that doesn’t make sense, but little about this movie does.) Then there’s the scene in which the leader of one of the groups that captures the teens hangs them by their ankles over a pit and threatens to kill them unless they reveal what they know about the oasis. It turns out he knows more than they do, but never mind. A few scenes later, the leader is embracing Thomas and calling him “hermano!”
Hey, in the Scorch, you have to forgive and forget.
“Maze Runner 2” is a handsomely mounted production. A scene in which Thomas and a girl he meets in the Scorch make their way through a crumbling city is beautiful in its degree of detail. What’s more, their escape from a horde of infected humans was nicely shot, and is quite suspenseful. For those few moments, the film has a pulse.
Then Thomas and the girl catch up to everyone else, and more bad guys show up, and everyone stands around staring slack-jawed at danger until Thomas yells at them to run, and I checked the time on my phone.
One and a half stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for violence and action, thematic elements, substance use, and language.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at email@example.com.