The last "Maze Runner" movie ended with a handful of our teenage main characters escaping the maze and learning they had been put there by a corporation called WCKD (pronounced "Wicked," just so you know they're bad guys). WCKD had put them in the maze because the world was falling apart due to a virus and the kids needed to be tested on something. The kids were "rescued" from the WCKD facility and flown in a helicopter to an unknown location.
"The Scorch Trials" begins with the survivors arriving at a new facility full of fellow maze-solvers. Supposedly the place is very safe, and the best and brightest may soon be relocated somewhere fun. Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) soon discovers that the facility is run by WCKD and the kids selected for relocation are in suspended animation having their brains harvested. Of course, everyone already suspects that the facility is evil because the guy in charge is played by Aidan Gillen (best known as Littlefinger on "Game of Thrones") and I don't think he's played a good or trustworthy character in his whole career. The character wouldn't be more suspicious if his name were Mr. Judas.
The kids escape the facility and go looking for a resistance called the Right Arm rumored to be in the mountains somewhere. To get to the mountains, they have to brave "The Scorch," the desert terrain that has overtaken the Earth and somehow made all the buildings decay. Seriously, how has this virus affected actual buildings? Also, lightning chases after humans in this environment. I don't know what's sillier, that the lightning is so aggressive or that the humans are somewhat successful in outrunning it.
The rest of the film sees our heroes running to various safe havens only to discover that they're not really safe. They hide out in an abandoned shopping mall only to get chased out by Cranks (people infected with the virus who want to bite our heroes – basically zombies). They happen upon a band of survivors only to discover that they're opportunistic and unfriendly. They escape through a sewer only to get chased out by more Cranks. They go to a daytime nightclub only to find out that the mysterious liquid they're drinking has undesirable effects (are we supposed to be surprised that the drug water is drugged?). Then they finally meet up with the Right Arm, who are friendly, but the danger is far from over.
The action is mostly your standard "running away from danger" fare. The Cranks are sufficiently gross-looking, many of them having clawed out their eyes some time ago due to hallucinations. They're inconsistent in their attack methods, apparently possessing the discretion to hide and pop out for jump scares, yet when they do appear they're always charging and flailing about with zero sense of subtlety. WCKD, for an evil organization, doesn't come off as very evil. Or at least there's no reason why they need to be evil. They're trying to cure the virus that's wiping out the whole planet, and nobody else is offering up a better long-term plan. The Gillen character is clearly a bad guy, but it's hard to work up too much hate for the head baddie, the wizened Dr. Paige (Patricia Clarkson).
One and a Half Stars out of Five
"Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language. Its running time is 131 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.