What happens when the laws of YA franchises dictate that an amusing and relatively straightforward movie called The Maze Runner must get a sequel? In the case of The Scorch Trials, the answer is to lose the maze, keep the running, drop any trace of the Lord of the Flies-inspired social tension, and fill the rest in with boilerplate dystopian YA tropes and Game of Thrones cast members.
Oh, and add zombies. Because why not?
Though the plot moves at a lively clip with some moments of genuine tension, The Scorch Trials, the second film based on James Dashner’s novels, is a textbook case of diminishing returns in a young-adult franchise, which start off with the familiar ideas — young people trapped in an oppressive world — and add in a single unique element — the original film’s maze. The problem arises when the story resolves that twist and the characters (played by returning stars Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, and Kaya Scodelario) are forced to continue exploring the ruined world — in this case, an Earth that’s been scorched by a solar flare.
One of the strengths of The Maze Runner is that it — at least in the first two acts — didn’t care all that much about the world outside the labyrinth. The maze and the boys’ stitched-together society were enough to tell a compelling story, even if the all-boys-and-one-girl dynamic was oddly devoid of any sexuality. (The same applies for all of The Scorch Trials, except for one moment.)
Left without a gimmick, The Scorch Trials wanders between YA cliches — there’s a Resistance, but it’s unclear what they’re resisting — and zombie movie tropes, with the obligatory a zombie bit our friend scene. All of which would have been acceptable if the characters were given motivation beyond “We need to go here” and “I need to save her.” There’s also the nagging frustration that most of the mystery at the heart of the movie could be resolved with a good, honest conversation between the characters.
It’s enough to make you wish they’d just go back into the damn maze already. C