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"MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS"
(2015) (Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Action: A teen and other survivors of a dangerous maze test must contend with further dangers, ranging from a paramilitary organization that wants to harvest an important immunity from their blood to ravenous zombies who want to attack them.
PLOT:
Having managed to escape from a dangerous maze land into which they were dropped as part of what turns out to have been a test, Thomas (DYLAN O'BRIEN) and fellow survivors Newt (THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER), Minho (KI HONG LEE), Teresa (KAYA SCODELARIO), Frypan (DEXTER DAREN) and Winston (ALEXANDER FLORES) have been brought to a facility run by Janson (AIDAN GILLEN). He claims it's their home between homes, and each day a select group of fellow survivors are escorted away, presumably to a better place.

But Thomas is suspicious of this, as is another survivor, Aris (JACOB LOFLAND), who's been at this facility the longest. The two of them eventually uncover that Janson works for Ava Paige (PATRICIA CLARKSON), the leader of WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Department) who was responsible for the earlier maze test and now wants to harvest the immunity elements from the survivors' blood. It turns out an epidemic known as "the flare" has decimated most of the planet, leaving scorched ruins teaming with zombie-like "cranks."

Ava wants to find a cure, even if that means sacrificing the lives of people like Thomas, so he bands together his small group and, along with Aris, manages to escape. They hope to find a rumored group of resistance fighters known as the Right Hand, and initially believe they've discovered them when they enter an outpost run by Jorge (GIANCARLO ESPOSITO) and his surrogate adult daughter, Brenda (ROSA SALAZAR). Unfortunately for Thomas and his friends, Jorge is just a mercenary looking to make a quick buck by selling the kids back to WCKD.

From that point on, they must contend with him, Janson and his forces, and various encounters with the cranks.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I'm a fan of the Detroit Lions. God knows why, since they've never been to the Super Bowl, haven't won a playoff game since 1991, and, for the most part, disappoint their fans year in and year out, rightfully earning the moniker "Same Old Lions" despite lots of potential and often starting out promisingly enough. That latter part is the worst salt in the wound as there's little more that's disheartening than dashing raised hopes and expectations.

The same can be said for many other aspects of life, including movies. Some films seem like home runs before they're released, only to turn out to be duds. Others, like last year's "The Maze Runner" -- based on James Dashner's dystopian young adult novel of the same name -- faired a bit better. But like my "mighty" Lions, what started off so promisingly, with a fairly unique and decently executed premise, eventually turned into a disappointment once the big plot surprise revealed what was really occurring.

I still gave the film a favorable rating and recommendation, but concluded with "Unfortunately, the more we learn, the less interesting it all becomes" and "I realize there are two more literary installments of this tale already waiting to get adapted, and I certainly didn't want a 6-hour version so that they all fit into one film. But it's never a good thing when the end of a film feels like a let-down from what preceded it, and that's certainly the case here."

Well, we now have installment number two -- "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" -- and not only does it suffer from the seemingly unavoidable middle chapter syndrome (where most everything feels like filler to bridge parts one and three), but it's also quite boring, despite a bounty of action.

I haven't read Dashner's second novel in this series, but returning director Wes Ball and scribe T.S. Nowlin (now flying solo after working in a trio adapting the first work) have pretty much fashioned this as not much more than your standard, run of the mill zombie flick.

After learning they were just rats in a literal maze under the watchful eye of Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), Thomas (a returning Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow "gladers" end up in a processing facility run by Janson (Aidan Gillen) who's too transparent in character construction. Yet, only Thomas and another kid (Jacob Lofland) figure he's up to no good, discover that, and escape with the others.

Alas, their self-extraction from that situation isn't as engaging or exciting as what our protagonist had to perform in the first flick. And that's then followed by a trek across the desert and various run-ins with said zombies (called "cranks" here) with neither them or such encounters being much different than we've seen in countless other such flicks.

Aside from a brief chase through a partially collapsed skyscraper, it's just more of the "same old, same old." Even the latter addition of Giancarlo Esposito and Rosa Salazar as the ruler and his surrogate adult daughter of an outpost, and then Barry Pepper quite late in the game can't do much in terms of adding excitement, interest or engagement to the proceeding. And while we're kept in the dark for a while about what's transpiring, much like the young characters, the revelation of that, as was the case at the end of the first pic, is a let-down.

Being a veteran of such experiences, cinematic and otherwise, I wasn't expecting much from this second installment considering how the first one ended and squandered what built up to that point. Heck, there's not even any maze -- or anything like it -- to keep the title truthful. Just a prolonged series of mediocre action scenes cobbled together, "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed September 15, 2015 / Posted September 18, 2015


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