‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ (2015) review: Scorched-earth tactics

‘Scorch Trials’ maintains frenetic pace of first film

What made the first “Maze Runner” film stand out from the oh-so-packed teen dystopia genre was its pure physicality. Every blow felt powerful, every bruise painful, every drop of blood viscous. While “Maze Runner” wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, it did find its place among the crowd.

The question for its sequel, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” then becomes: What’s next? For director Wes Ball (who directed the first film), the answer is simple: Why fix what isn’t broken? “Scorch Trials” loses some of the claustrophobic tension of “Maze Runner” — along with the actual maze that played such a pivotal and oddly creepy role — but it keeps all that satisfying brutal action and kinetic violence that made the first film particularly enjoyable.

In “Maze Runner,” teenager Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) awakes to find himself surrounded by other kids and the aforementioned maze, which seem nigh impossible to figure out. By the end of that film, Thomas and his motley group of renegades had managed to escape their predicament, only to find themselves in a potentially more dangerous situation. In “Scorch Trials,” based on the series of books by James Dashner, instead of being trapped in their lush glade prison, they fight to cross an expanse known as the Scorch, in which most building are destroyed, most everything is covered in sand and most people aren’t … well, people anymore.

Thomas’ world is ripped straight from post-apocalyptic fiction: The planet has been ravaged by a two-hit combo: first a massive solar flare, then a deadly virus known as the Flare, which turns humans into zombie-like creatures. To make matters worse, his mostly male friends (the one girl, Teresa, is played by Kaya Scodelario) are being pursued by an organization called WCKD — yes, it’s pronounced “wicked” — while searching for a rebel group known as The Right Hand. Let’s just WCKD, led by Dr. Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), doesn’t exactly have the best interest of the maze runners at heart.

What follows is a plot that has more than a few twists and plenty of pulse-pounding moments. A few actors from the first film — including Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee — return to reprise their roles, and a few new characters show up to flesh out the story. (How else would Thomas know about all the chaos that’s been happening outside the walls of the glade?) In typical fashion, however, not everyone is who they claim to be, and Thomas struggles to separate friend from foe.

Director Ball keeps the action intense, with massive sets that tend to be destroyed not long after Thomas and friends show up, including a spectacular explosion. The physical action is top-notch, preserving that same “ouch” factor and “I’m not afraid to take chances” attitude from the first film. (A scene involving Rosa Salazar’s Brenda will leave you breathless.)

In the end, with “The Scorch Trials,” the “Maze Runner” franchise continues to make a spot for itself in this glut of teen-led post-apocalyptic films. Its plot isn’t exactly inventive, but it’s frenetic and packed to the brim with excellent action sequences and crazy-elaborate set pieces. When everything is said and done, you’re going to be rooting for these guys to find the cure they’re looking for.

Three “That looks like it hurts!” stars out of five.

“The Maze Runner” review

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