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In the realm of YA action adaptations, last year’s The Maze Runner felt slightly better than the rest of the pack. By limiting the action to the eponymous maze, it kept the story relatively simple, without romantic love triangles or save-the-world plots, instead creating a moderately intriguing mystery. Now that the survivors of the maze have escaped, the Maze Runner crew is out into a world where their actions could decide the fate of the world and thereby The Scorch Trials turns The Maze Runner into the type mediocre YA franchise that its predecessor bucked so hard against.

Taking place only minutes after The Maze Runner concluded, The Scorch Trials has hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his crew finally escaped from the maze, “saved” by a unknown group that promises to take them to a much safer place. However, this group’s leader Janson is played by Aidan Gillen, aka Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, who is constantly wearing villainous turtlenecks, so you know that they’re up to no good. When Aris (Mud’s Jacob Lofland) lets Thomas know about the group’s suspicious activities with the kids they’re supposedly saving, Thomas leads his friends out of the stronghold and into the real world.

While The Maze Runner’s simplicity was a strong suit, almost like one extended action sequence, The Scorch Trials raises way too many questions that it doesn’t intend to answer, at least until the third film. The world outside is a barren wasteland, where the sun is slightly too hot, buildings have crumbled, lightning storms are far more violent and for some reason, World War Z-esque zombies who rip out their own eyes are everywhere.

Despite its new scenery, The Scorch Trials often follows the same story trajectory that the original did. Once again, we get the kid that seems slightly off helping Thomas and the kid who dies, motivating the group to move forward with their plans. There’s the scene where the kids dangle upside down while their enemies surround them and we even get Thomas running at a door trying to get through the second before it closes. Last time, the door closing was horizontal, but this time, it’s vertical! Really pulling out all the stops in this one.

This time around, The Maze Runner series feels like a shittier version of The Hunger Games or even worse, a slightly less shitty version of the Divergent series, complete with a zip-line escape between destroyed skyscapers. Thomas also becomes the stereotypical “boy who could change everything.” As the de-facto leader of the group, he’s always able to warn his friends of upcoming dangers just right in time to save them.

To be fair though, all this group really needs to do survive is to run. Which they do. A lot. Pretty much every situation can be solved by running your ass off, even outrunning an electrical storm is doable. All of these chases can get tiresome, but at least director Wes Ball makes each new action sequence slightly unique from the last one. But by the end of the film, when Thomas admits that he’s tired of running, you can’t blame the poor guy.

Maze Runner’s plot was pretty bare-bones, with the goal being to go from point A to point B, and The Scorch Trials also has that same arc, it just seems to end somewhere in between, becoming the typical middle film in the trilogy that drags out the plot from the first into the third. Very little plot-related happens in their constant running, with most of the essential information being given by the evil group’s main leader, played by Patricia Clarkson, in one of the film’s final scenes. To its credit, The Scorch Trials does have plenty of older actors like Alan Tudyk, Giancarlo Esposito, and Lili Taylor hamming it up to bring the film’s only moments of levity in this cruel, humorless landscape.

After the better-than-expected premiere of The Maze Runner series, The Scorch Trials comes along to drag the story out and fit this series into the cookie cutter that it had somehow escaped. By taking cues from so many other franchises, The Scorch Trials doesn’t feel like the breath of fresh air it started out as. In the end, when Thomas’ friends ask him if he has a plan, one can only hope that whatever it ends up being, it’ll at least be unique from the YA films we usually see after this disappointment.

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