The release of The Maze Runner in 2014 was an unexpected treat. Debuting amid more serious fall movies, it had a unique premise in the burgeoning post-apocalyptic young adult genre. It thrust its main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) — and by extension, the audience — into a strange world where a group of young men were forced to try and survive in the middle of a labyrinthine maze.
The mystery surrounding their circumstances, the performances of the actors, and – spoiler alert – the thrilling escape from the maze made the film succeed beyond expectations. But once they’re out of the maze, what is there left to tell?
The sequel, The Scorch Trials, attempts to make hay out of the survivors – which include Thomas, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) – still trying to avoid the clutches of WCKD, the organization run by Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) that was revealed to be behind the maze.
The survivors, including some new friends, spend the film trying to find allies, especially a group called the Right Hand that supposedly resides in a far-off mountain range. Along the way, they must fight off the heat of the scorched land, zombie-like creatures who like to hide in dark places, and, of course, the dogged pursuit of WCKD.
Director Wes Ball and writer T.S. Nowlin, both reprising their roles, do their level best to make the proceedings as exciting as the first go-around, but it’s ultimately a losing effort. Without the claustrophobia-inducing confines of the maze, there’s no overarching menace that’s felt throughout.
And if you thought the characters ran a lot in the first film, just wait until you see how much they run in the sequel. In fact, it seems as if all they do is run, a tactic that loses its effectiveness about a quarter of the way into the movie. With no defined end goal, it’s as if they’re on a giant treadmill with the occasional threat thrown in to keep things mildly interesting.
O’Brien is still winning as Thomas, as he displays the charisma and demeanor needed for a leader in the adverse conditions the characters experience. Scodelario’s role is reduced this time around, minimizing her impact, allowing Lee to step up and impress. Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, and Giancarlo Esposito also make the most of their supporting roles.
Just as the first film left no real clear path as to how the story would continue, The Scorch Trials ends in a kind of “What now?” manner. The only difference is that the excitement of the first film left you wanting more; the sequel can’t come close to generating the same feelings.