Action dominates characters in 'Maze Runner' sequel

  • Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, right) leads Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) in a daring escape in "The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."

    Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, right) leads Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) in a daring escape in "The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials."

 
 
Posted9/17/2015 5:15 AM

I think I'm becoming dystopified, a condition affecting people who've seen too many science fiction adventures involving bleak visions of a future world commanded by mysterious, authoritarian agents opposed by attractive teenagers who can run really fast.

Call it the Divergent Runner Hunger Maze Games Syndrome.

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Or it might be that "The Scorch Trials" is merely an overly action-packed sequel so generically executed that its characters muster all the personality of jack rabbits on the loose.

The last time we saw Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) in 2014's "The Maze Runner," he, along with many other young people, had been rudely kidnapped and ker-plopped into a seemingly pleasant, agrarian community next to a large, mysterious maze with a locked gate, one that periodically opens just long enough for intrepid runners to escape, provided they survive giant spidery things and being crushed by closing maze walls.

At the end of "Maze Runner," we discovered that the teens -- referred to as "Gladers" -- have been abducted by a shady government/research organization called the World Catastrophe Killzone Department, or WCKD (pronounced "wicked").

WCKD appears to be all about stopping the "Flare plague" that has killed most of the people on the planet. Those who survive transform into homicidal "cranks" resembling hopped-up extras straight off the set of Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The Scorch Trials" opens where "Maze Runner" left off with Thomas, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and others being helicoptered out of the maze to an underground bunker run by an enigmatic military supervisor named Janson (Aidan Gillen).

The Gladers get food, bunks and clothing. Nothing out of the ordinary, except for those strange glyptics seared on to some of their necks.

What are they? And why has Janson separated Teresa from her friends? Where did she go? Why are the Gladers locked in their rooms?

Thomas wisely doesn't trust Janson. His suspicions are confirmed by Aris (Jacob Lofland), a smart, dweeby Glader who knows about a secret ventilation shaft that the bunker architects conveniently put in their room so they can easily come and go.

And go they do, escaping into the Scorch, an arid wasteland of Mad Maxian proportions populated by cranked-up maniacs, a mercenary group led by the capitalistic Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and a rebel organization called the Right Arm Camp.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Where mystery fueled the first "Maze Runner," frenetic action sequences rule this sequel from original director Wes Ball.

Two surprise crank attacks highlight "Scorch Trials," and they could hold up in any zombie-inspired horror tale directed by Zack Snyder or Danny Boyle.

The first occurs in an abandoned, now-underground shopping mall (shades of George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead"). The second happens in a deserted, toppled skyscraper. Both are crisp, sensational set pieces that leave the rest of the character-challenged movie in the dust.

O'Brien, the star of TV's "Teen Wolf," projects the proper amount of stoic leadership as Thomas, but there's not much personal chemistry between him and Scodelario's Teresa.

For that matter, none of these characters receives enough screen time to develop relationships with us or each other, not even Glencoe native Lili Taylor's noble field doctor, Mary.

Patricia Clarkson returns as the WCKD boss Ava Paige, sort of a cross between Cruella deVil and "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S." Even her character feels muted and stiff, not setting up much anticipation for "The Death Cure," the next chapter in novelist James Dashner's five-part series.

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