Fun, if programmatic, for the better part of its almost two hours, The Maze Runner distinguished itself from its YA brethren through its largely self-contained locale and discursive action. The reasons for a community’s lab-ratted confinement in a small, verdant patch of land adjacent to a massive labyrinth of high walls, abundant in conveniently placed ivy and kiddie-eating ghoulies, informed the characters’ convictions and remained a mystery until the end. But then, the mythology was revealed to be the usual trite nonsense about the world brought to its knees by an apocalyptic event and a cabal of adults trying to turn things around, nefariously of course.
Almost perversely, and in sync with the TL;DR mindset of its target demographic, the film’s sequel, The Scorch Trials, immediately announces that it can’t be bothered to go beyond the narrow scope of this Dystopia 101 scenario about disease and the immunity encoded within the bodies of the story’s young protagonists. That the ever-frazzled Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his motley crew of Maze survivors can’t remember how they became guinea pigs for WCKD simply exists to give the film the false impression of negotiating its way toward some sort of meaning.
Almost immediately after waking up inside a militarized shelter, Thomas and company doubt their savior Janson’s (Aidan Gillen) good intentions and orchestrate their getaway into the Scorch, a dangerous dominion that evokes New York City buried beneath the Sahara. From there, the film tediously locks itself into a lather-rinse-repeat rhythm, shuffling the characters from one tense encounter to the next—with hopped-up zombies, bitchin’ lightning, and devious rebel factions—without ever allowing them time to process the implications of how their bodies are being exploited as commodities.
Mercy killings and memories of Mom are just pit stops on the long and grungy road toward the Right Arm, an ostensible safe zone that suggests where the characters from Sons of Anarchy and Falling Skies go to heaven. A rave sequence nearly achieves poignancy, for hinting at the desperation with which drug use disguises the pain of life, only to ultimately be revealed as the setup for replacing Thomas’s love interest. Every set piece brings to mind an Epcot Center attraction built from borrowed parts (28 Days Later, The Matrix, The Book of Eli), and on a CW show’s budget, geared only toward reinforcing the young audience’s belief that adults just don’t understand them.