This movie is seriously mistitled. There are, in fact, no trials in “The Scorch,” which is future-jargon for the blasted earth outside the laboratories where our protagonists usually dwell. For the uninitiated — people without adolescent readers at home — Maze Runner is yet another apocalyptic teen adventure; this one features a boy named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who came suddenly awake in a glade by a high-tech, robot-haunted maze in the previous film. Escaped now with his generic pals and a cute girl named Teresa, Thomas deals with new treacheries and the same memory issues that brought him to this sad juncture in the first place. If that sounds confusing, fine. The whole point of these teen apocalypse films is to keep us guessing. But technically no real trials.
Jumbling settings, changing the villain focus from its misremembered source material — James Dashner’s novels — the film blames coldhearted WCKD (pronounced wicked) for forcing the kids into the hostile outdoors where zombies attack and other bad stuff happens. Meanwhile, Thomas meets a new (presumably doomed) girl and has romantic triangle problems, too. Worse, nobody has time to make out (except while hallucinating) since the rattling machinery of the new plot keeps moving this story toward more Armageddons.
Highlights? The zombies are cool, and a psychedelic interlude proves more trippy than revelatory, which seems right. Full-blown wars and lightning bolts more than compensate for the forsaking of author intentions or fan expectations. The real reason this epic-length film works, though, is the beautiful chaos it portrays. Skyscrapers lean lovingly over sand-drifted cities, and gorgeous storms roar across arid plains. It’s so beautiful you forget to ask why the plot is ridiculous. Who built the mazes? Why don’t they just make alternative dwellings? Director Wes Ball fashioned an apocalypse so attractive you will soon join forgetful Thomas. Who knows why we’re here? Meanwhile, let’s rock this wreck of a planet.