My appreciation of the first Maze Runner film rested primarily on the large, mysterious Maze that served as a formidable enemy to our heroes; it was inexplicable, bizarre, and called back to the days of Lost. Now with the sequel, after having escaped, my worries began to grow because the Maze itself was pretty much the only unique thing about the film in a year so full of Young Adult novel adaptations. Thankfully, with The Scorch Trials, it is clear that there does not need to be a maze in this series for it to be full of excitement, action, and enough running to make you feel like the laziest person on the planet.

Picking up moments after the first film ended, we are thrust into a world that has been devastated by the “Flare,” a disease that eradicated a good portion of the population. Those who are still alive discover a major conspiracy run by WCKD (pronounced Wicked) an obviously evil organization to keep the young for some nefarious purposes. While taking a significant departure from the novel, the film tends to have too much convenience for its own good. Things happen too coincidentally, making it feel contrived, like there was no other way to move the plot forward, which isn’t much of an issue but it is still noticeable.

In many ways The Scorch Trials is a significant improvement on a lot of the elements of the first one. The already excellent cinematography and set-designs are still great, showcasing some thrilling chase scenes, barren wastelands, and eerily deserted shopping malls. But even though the chases are excitingly shot, there are only so many times you can make a “near-escape” be as tense as the first few attempts. Though, there is no denying that seeing the gang sprinting through wherever they might be at breakneck speed will get the blood pumping. Yet even though there are a lot of improvements on the things that were already solid, we are once again led into the fray by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who is a boring, uninspiring figure.

It’s pretty problematic when all of the supporting cast is infinitely more interesting than your main character and you feel more pain and fear for their wellbeing than you do for Thomas’. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, and Dexter Dresden all give more entertaining performances than O’Brien as the returning runners. They each have their own unique personalities that stand out against O’Brien’s hollow recitation of lines without much enthusiasm. Joining the cast this time around is Aiden Gillen (Game of Throne’s Littlefinger), Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring), Barry Pepper, Patricia Clarkson, and Rosa Salazar are also great, especially Gillen as the villainous Janson with an entertainingly malicious performance. 

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials has proven that there is a nugget of something great in this YA series. Its significant improvements over the first one cover up the flaws of its bland main character, while also escalating it to a prime position to finish off the series on a high note. The Scorch Trial tops the first in every way, but it still can make some improvements for the final installment.