Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Directed by: Wes Ball (“The Maze Runner”)
Written by: T.S. Nowlin (“The Maze Runner”)

It is annoying, yet understandable, when first installments of franchise-intended films solely serve as a set-up to the next. Fervor needs to be built, and what better way to do it than to give audiences just a taste of what’s to come. It’s when those sequels do just as much table setting, like we see in “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” where the seemingly everlasting trends of film franchises start to grow tired and insulting.

Following the events of last year’s “The Maze Runner,” Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the rest of the Gladers find themselves in a facility where they are told they are being protected from an oppressive agency called WCKD. Witnessing suspcisious activities, Thomas discovers that kids are being harvested for their qualities of being immune to the Flare virus. Facing possible death, Thomas teams up with his friends to plot an escape. Once they get away, however, Thomas and his group are hunted in the increasingly unsafe ruins of “The Scorch.”

Somewhere around a third of the way in, “The Scorch Trials” takes a horror-esque turn, with zombie-like infected people becoming a major threat. Its weird detour into the undead is a left-field turn that doesn’t gel with anything happening on screen in the films first act and thus confuses the tone. At a certain point, it becomes unclear whether the film intends to be a “Hunger Games” style YA action film or an attempt at banking on the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” creating horror imagery appropriate for younger teens.

As “The Scorch Trials” trudges along, it becomes abundantly clear that not only nothing of consequence is going to happen, but that action and story beats are destined to repeat until the credits roll. The film features at least four or five separate sequences in which our characters are put in some kind of peril and narrowly escape. It’s a sign of poor and lazy construction, a feature also seen in its dealing with a character named Aris, played by Jacob Lofland, who is established early on an integral part of the story. After the 2nd or 3rd narrow escape (one loses count after a while), Lofland spends the rest of the film as a glorified extra with virtually no lines in more than the last hour and no consequence affecting the plot.

In terms of perpetuating the trend of dystopian young-adult films, “The Scorch Trials” adds virtually nothing to the mix. It’s repetitive, boring and truly amazing how few consequential moments there are, especially given its swollen run time of over two hours. Look for questions to finally be answered if this dull franchise keeps going into the new millennium.

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