Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials **

Out of the maze and into the fire, but too lost for its own good. 

Is it worth $10? No

“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” is a bloated paradox. Much of its 131 minutes concerns storylines that aren’t fully explained (this is the second part of a trilogy based on James Dashner’s novels), the characters act illogically, the action is bland and the ending is labored. And yet it engages you enough to realize that it’s a bold PG-13 adaptation of a popular young adult novel that isn’t afraid to be morbid and grim. You may not like the movie, but at least it has guts.

The film picks up where “The Maze Runner” (2014) left off, which is good if you enjoyed “The Maze Runner” and meaningless if you didn’t. When last seen, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and the other survivors of the “Glade” were on a helicopter headed toward what they believed was safety. They end up in a facility run by Janson, whom “Game of Thrones” fans will immediately recognize because he’s played by Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger). Little do the teenagers know Janson is harvesting kids in the interest of finding a cure for the “Flare,” a deadly virus that turns people into Cranks (zombies).

Thomas and friends escape, starting a series of events that involves them running from various bad guys for the rest of the film. Eventually they find themselves in the “Scorch,” a desert-like terrain that offers little respite from the elements. They have help: Aris (Jacob Lofland) assists them in leaving Janson’s facility, and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) lead the group into the mountains toward Right Arm, a resistance movement. All the while danger lurks from the sun, Cranks, Wicked (the group conducting the experiments searching for the cure), and most surprisingly, from within their own ranks.

The film was directed by Wes Ball and written by T.S. Nowlin, both of whom also served the same function on “The Maze Runner,” so one would think the two films would share a sense of continuity. But aside from the characters the two movies could not be more different, which isn’t good for the sequel when the original is clearly better.

Specifically, the tone and content of “Scorch Trials” is dire, and the life-or-death situations in which the teens are placed often come with great moral and ethical complications. Whereas the first film was “Lord of the Flies”-style survival, here the stakes are survival and the continuation of mankind. The story is so dark that some scenes feel straight out of a horror movie: Cranks attack with relentless speed, characters are drugged and taken advantage of, and scientific experiments on living humans all make this a squirmy movie to sit through, but in this case that’s a good thing because it feels atypical.

It’s an odd dynamic, but “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” simultaneously disappoints and intrigues. Knowing it’s the second part of a trilogy, the final evaluation can reasonably boil down to this: Does it leave me eager to see part three? The answer is no, because it feels like all the questions could’ve been answered with clearer and more concise storytelling here. And leaving us thinking part three is superfluous rather than necessary is not good.
Did you know?
The third adaptation of “The Maze Runner” trilogy, “The Death Cure,” is tentatively scheduled to open in Feb. 2017, but no official start date for production has been announced.

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