“Maze Runner: the Scorch Trials” is the middling second chapter of the trilogy which merely promises the next sequel when it is finally over. While its predecessor showed some potentials with an interesting premise despite its flaws, the movie bores us with many familiar things we have already seen from other numerous movies based on young adult novels about dystopian futuristic world like “The Hunger Games” (2012), and I only looked at the screen with little interest as it trudged toward a mandatory cliffhanger finale a la “Empire Strikes Back” (1980).
In “The Maze Runner” (2014), we met a bunch of teenagers who happened to be trapped inside a huge complex maze for some unknown reason, and some of them managed to escape from the maze in the end while coming to learn about what had been actually going on beyond the maze. It turns out the human civilization was collapsed several years ago because of the global epidemic of a brain virus, and a powerful organization named W.C.K.D (World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department) has been trying find the cure for the disease by any means necessary. The people of W.C.K.D. are particularly interested in certain young people immune to the disease, and that was why Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and other teenagers were locked inside the maze, though I still do not understand why the maze was necessary for their top-secret research from the very beginning.
Anyway, Thomas and his colleagues are spirited off to some other place by a bunch of soldiers while not fully understanding the insidious master plan of W.C.K.D. for them. When they arrive at the military headquarters in the middle of your average post-apocalyptic desert landscape called the Scorch, they are greeted by a man named Janson (Aidan Gillen), and he assures them everything will be fine for them. In the headquarters, there are many other teenagers who were rescued from other mazes of W.C.K.D just like Thomas and his colleagues, and they have been waiting to be taken to a safer place somewhere outside the Scorch.
Of course, Thomas begins to be suspicious about this especially after he meets Aris (Jacob Lofland), a nerdy boy who can sneak around the ventilator network inside the headquarters. When Janson and his soldiers eventually turn out to be not the people they are assumed to be (this is not a spoiler at all because it is already revealed in the trailer), Thomas instantly realizes that he and others must escape from the headquarters as soon as possible.
Once they manage to escape from Janson and begin their difficult journey across the Scorch, the movie gives us more of what was glimpsed briefly during the finale of the previous film. We see a city full of the decaying remnants of human civilization, we behold the wide, barren landscapes to dwarf our teenager characters on the screen, and we also meet several groups of survivors including a rebel group which may protect and Thomas and others from W.C.K.D.
And there are a bunch of virus-infected people called Cranks, who are, yes, pretty much like those hideous zombies we saw from “28 Days Later…” (2002). Cranks shriek a lot as dashing fast toward whoever happens to draw their attention, and it certainly helps that our young characters practiced a lot in advance as runners in the previous film. As they run here and there as fast as they can around dark places, we get choppy action sequences coupled with dizzy camera work, and we often do not understand well what is going on the screen as the movie keeps running and jumping to next action shots.
The movie merely plods around its plot points without much impact, and it is also hampered by its weak characterization. While Dylan O’Brien gets a thankless job of playing the bland archetype hero who will be destined to change his dystopian world, the other young performers around him including Kaya Scodelarios and Thomas Brodie-Sangster do not have many things to do while managing to be distinguishable from each other thanks to the multi-racial casting.
In case of the other actors in the film, they fill their flat characters as demanded while taking their paychecks. While it is nice to see Patricia Clarkson again, her talent is wasted again as before, and Aiden Gillen is suitably cast in his role as reminding some of you of his nefarious character in TV series “Game of Thrones”. Alan Tudyk briefly appears as the untrustworthy owner of a decadent nightclub located inside a shabby survivor community, Lily Taylor and Barry Pepper are two main members of the rebel group, and Giancarlo Esposito, who seems to be aging into the stage where he will take over the roles usually given to Morgan Freeman (can you believe that he was once a cocky loudmouth in “Do the Right Thing” (1989)?), is one of a few entertaining things in the film as a mercenary leader who turns out to be a better man than he seemed at first. As his daughter-like figure, Rosa Salazar also holds her own place, and she is believable during a tense moment when her character has to think and act fast on a cracking glass plate before she falls to the ground from high above.
Although I did not like “The Maze Runner” enough to recommend it, I was intrigued by its premise, and I hoped that they would make improvements in the next film. Unfortunately, “Maze Runner: the Scorch Trials” is a mediocre product which does not show anything I have not seen before, and it is not even good at handling its story and characters to engage us. They may get their groove back in the following sequel, but, at this moment, I do not expect much.