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Dylan O'Brien is prepared to immolate himself in "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."

I must admit I was a bit bewildered when I heard that last year’s The Maze Runner was getting a sequel. The dystopian YA film was a fair-sized hit, but I struggled to remember anything that happened in it. I’ve seen better movies of this type that failed to spawn planned sequels, too. When Saturday Night Live parodied it and other fantasy-adventure movies last fall (the drab costumes, the impenetrable jargon, the needlessly obscure mysteries within mysteries), I figured that was the death blow. But, no, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials soldiers on bravely and boringly into our theaters this week.

Based on James Dashner’s novel, the story picks up shortly after the events of the first movie. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow survivors of the maze have been taken to a shelter in the middle of the desert that’s run by Janson (Aidan Gillen), which holds many more teens who’ve been rescued from other mazes. Janson promises them that the facility is only a way station before they are transported to a safer place, but Thomas doesn’t trust him. Perhaps, like us, Thomas has watched Game of Thrones or The Wire. I mean, would you trust a shelter run by Littlefinger Carcetti? No, you wouldn’t!

Once Thomas’ band escapes and encounters people infected by the virus that decimated humanity, the movie becomes your standard zombie chase exercise. This would have been far more effective if it had been adapted into a video game instead of a film. If you were controlling Thomas and his friends, you’d probably make smarter decisions than them. For example, you’d probably go down the tunnel where daylight is visible rather than the tunnel that’s choked off by scary-looking red vines. Also, a pixelated version of Thomas would likely display more charisma than the relentlessly uninteresting O’Brien. The boys who follow Thomas are an ethnically diverse bunch, but that doesn’t do much good when they have enough personality for maybe half a boy among the six of them.

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Among the few bright spots here is Giancarlo Esposito, injecting some badly needed dry humor as the leader of a commune opposed to Janson’s company. Rosa Salazar is an intriguing ghostly presence as a multifariously capable girl at the commune, and Kaya Scodelario (who plays the sole girl in Thomas’ group) remains unearthly beautiful even when she’s covered in a layer of blowing dust. There’s a neatly engineered sequence, too, when Thomas runs up a half-toppled skyscraper to escape the zombies. Still, this isn’t anywhere strong enough to make you forget the Hunger Games series, and Lili Taylor is brought on for a role that’s so abbreviated you wonder why she or the filmmakers bothered. In fact, you could fairly say the same for the whole business.

 

[box_info]Maze Runner:
The Scorch Trials
Starring Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario. Directed by Wes Ball. Written by T.S. Nowlin, based on James Dashner’s novel. Rated PG-13.[/box_info]

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