Pretty much everyone had the exact same thought after seeing the trailer for the original Maze Runner: “So, it’s just The Hunger Games light?” And… yeah, it kind of was. Comparing The Maze Runner to The Hunger Games is like comparing Harry Potter to Percy Jackson, or I Am Number Four to Twilight. Actually, I Am Number Four might have been slightly less horrible than Twilight, but you get the idea. Nobody wants the wannabe young adult adaptation when they can have the young adult adaptation that started the trend.
To give the first Maze Runner credit, though, it did have just enough mystery and atmosphere to stand on its own despite so many overused tropes. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials on the other hand, suffers from the same problems as The Divergent Series: Insurgent. This sequel is just more of what we got in the first movie and other popular stories. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It’s basically just filler until the next entry in the saga, which hopefully won’t be split into two movies.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends have escaped from the Glade and are looking to resolve several questions. How did the world become an apocalyptic wasteland? What is the organization known as W.C.K.D. after? Why were they put in the Glade to begin with? The answers all reside in the Scorch, which is every bit as deadly as the desert planet from Dune. Much like the initial film, The Scorch Trials does a good job at luring the audience in with its sense of mystery. What Thomas ultimately finds in the Scorch, however, is nothing special.
In a nutshell, the land turns out to be overrun with infected beings known as Cranks. We might as well just call the Cranks zombies or mutants, though, because that’s what they are. Aside from borrowing from The Hunger Games, The Scorch Trials also rips off every outbreak story known to man. It’s The Walking Dead. It’s The Last of Us. So in addition to numerous young adult clichés, such as a big bad government and a young rebel protagonist, we get scenes where characters are chased by the infected, bitten by the infected, and put out of their misery to avoid becoming the infected.
Such familiarity could be overlooked if The Scorch Trials had great characters to compensate. While the characters aren’t necessarily terrible and the performances are strong, everyone is pretty forgettable. You can’t remember a single individual based on their personality or even their name. Even great character actors, like Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Lili Taylor, and Patricia Clarkson, leave next to no impression. Watching the young leads, you can’t help but wish it were the Goonies embarking on this adventure.
The Scorch Trials is a movie that basically just exists. Nobody will go crazy for it, but nobody will get furious over it either. For what it’s worth, the actors are all talented, the production values are nice, and occasionally we get a cool action set piece. For something destined to live the shadow of The Hunger Games, The Scorch Trials is better than it has any right to be. That doesn’t really make it a good or necessary movie, though.