I’m struggling to recall a sequel which so comprehensively fails to live up to the promise of its predecessor as “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”. Maybe “The Matrix Reloaded”? After the first movie’s ballsy decision to end on a cliffhanger teased the prospect of the Maze having just been the first test within a much larger series of tests, the payoff ends up being an arid wasteland, devoid of original ideas and only occasionally broken up by derivative set pieces.
Having been rescued from the Maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow survivors find themselves in a massive installation where they are promised they will soon be transported to a safe zone by their apparent rescuer Janson (Aidan Gillen). But Thomas is wary and when his paranoia is proved, he and his friends escape to The Scorch and head for the mountains to join up with a group of resistance fighters.
Unfortunately, once the Gladers make it out of WCKD’s clutches and into the desert, the story just runs out of steam and starts to borrow visuals and ideas from other films to help prop up its clumsy and heavy-handed allegories for Big Pharma/ AIDS/ Global Warming (take your pick – the film doesn’t seem particularly passionate about any of them).
There’s a repetitive quality to the action and when the film isn’t being repetitive, it’s pretty dull which may be symptomatic of having to fill up the time with something as it apparently deviates quite a bit from the source novel. Even the hinting at larger mysteries and histories of the characters starts to grate after a while because we’re never given any answers and the sudden switch of allegiances by one character is telegraphed so early it’s a wonder even the oblivious dunderheads of his movie didn’t spot it coming. Whatever the Gladers were being bred for, it wasn’t intelligence. For an abandoned, scorched Earth, there sure are a lot of settlements encountered by our heroes, some of them populated by humans and some of them by ‘Cranks’, zombie-like victims of ‘the Flare’ that you definitely wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with.
It’s the encounters with one group or the other that becomes cyclically predictable yet amongst the peaks and troughs of incident, there’s actually very little for the cast to do. For much of the movie when not actually running, Dylan O’Brien spends the time with his mouth weirdly toothlessly agape and brow furrowed as if trying to figure out where it all went wrong. The rest of the Gladers are pretty much side-lined, with Thomas Brodie-Sangster utterly wasted and the charismatic and likeable Ki Hong Lee given a few nifty action moments but largely ignored.
Director Wes Ball, despite borrowing heavily from “I Am Legend” and lifting a scene directly from “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, films the action (or lack thereof) beautifully and even manages a few moments of genuine creeping dread before its frittered away in another scrambling chase scene. Like the “Divergent” series before it, this franchise is quickly culling its potential audience to ‘fans of the books’ only. Far too long and far too dull, this slice of generic post-apocalyptic tedium finds itself not trapped in a maze but stuck in a rut; with no sign that the story or characters have the wherewithal to get themselves out of it.