Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

The time of reckoning has come.

There’s no sugar coating it. The past few years haven’t been kind to good ol’ YA adaptations, chiefly those of the dystopian variety. After The Hunger Games became a global moneymaking machine — the series propelling its lead Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom — the search for the ‘next big phenomenon’ was on, studios looking for their own slice of the lucrative pie. The Host (2013), which is currently sitting at an abysmal 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, failed to ‘catch fire,’ whilst Ender’s Game (2013) copped a ‘Game Over’ almost right away. The 5th Wave (2016) sunk at the box office, and although Shailene Woodley’s Divergent saga had a solid start, it never crossed the finish line, due to harebrained executives who thought it was a good idea to split the last book into two movies, precisely when enthusiasm for all things YA began to dwindle. Nice one, guys!

The Maze Runner series, however, is a bit of an anomaly. Based on James Dashner’s bestselling young adult novels, the property has somehow managed to survive, despite being a big, fat mishmash of ideas we’ve seen before. The first chapter, The Maze Runner (2014), introduced our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), when he wakes with amnesia, imprisoned in a community of boys trapped inside a labyrinth known as The Glade. Teaming up with his detainees (aka the Gladers), Thomas fights Erector-Set-looking monsters called Grievers and escapes the concrete puzzle, only to discover that the outside world isn’t much better. Yikes!

‘We’re gonna need some Gladerade …’

The second film, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), follows the kids as they’re forced to navigate a desolate landscape, the earth having been destroyed by a global pandemic called The Flare, a virus that turns infected victims into mindless zombie-type creatures nicknamed Cranks. Moreover, the Gladers eventually discover that they were imprisoned within the maze by an evil government agency known as W.C.K.D. (short for World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department), who were hoping to use the adolescents’ blood to find a cure for the epidemic, seeing as a handful of people were immune to the virus’ disturbing effects.

The final part, The Death Cure, comes to us with very little fanfare, after being delayed by a serious on-set accident, which saw star Dylan O’Brien injured and hospitalized. Directed by Wes Ball (who’s helmed all three installments), The Death Cure gets right into the action with a high-speed Mad Max-type railcar raid — filmmakers probably aware that, at this point in the male-led series, it’s not worth catering to newcomers. At the center of the death-defying heist, we have Thomas and his Glader buddies Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden), who are on a mission to rescue their captured comrade, Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who’s locked up in a train full of teenagers that are being shipped to a W.C.K.D. facility for testing.

Every breath you take …

With the help of resistance fighters Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), the boys manage to rescue a carriage of hostages, only to discover that Minho isn’t amongst the rabble, their friend taken to W.C.K.D.’s headquarters in the wasteland’s fabled city stronghold, the Last City (a gleaming CGI metropolis of soaring skyscrapers and florescent billboards). Naturally, our protagonists decide to break into the heavily fortified area to free Minho from the clutches of W.C.K.D., who have him in their towering control center. Inside the building, Minho suffers through a series of laboratory tests carried out by onetime Glader and Thomas’ former flame, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), an informant who befriended the boys inside the maze.

Written, once again, by T.S. Nowlin, The Death Cure sees Thomas & Co. running from a bunch of dangerous obstacles, i.e. dodging deadheads or casually jumping off buildings, as they endeavor to rescue a character that left very little impression in the first place (who was Minho again?). Taking Minho out of the equation, the narrative, as a whole, still doesn’t make a lick of sense. For instance, we’re supposed to root for these so-called ‘heroes’ who are doing everything in their power to try and stop doctors from saving humanity, with Thomas basically prioritizing the lives of a select few. Sure, W.C.K.D. are exploiting kids in their undertaking, and it’s suggested that they too plan on choosing who gets to live or die, but (at least) those guys are striving to save mankind. Heck, none of the goodies even bother to question the morality of their quest; they’re too busy bouncing from one kinetic set piece to the next.

Who wants to run when you can drive!

Still, there’s plenty of mindless fun to be had by way of an edge-of-your seat intro (that quickly gets audiences reacquainted with the team) and a crazy video-game-esque rescue involving a bus and a crane. It helps that the action is constantly thrilling and exciting, with helmer slash former visual effects supervisor Ball (whose first feature was 2014’s The Maze Runner) having matured into a skilled action director throughout the trilogy, one who’s bound for bigger and better things. Aesthetically, The Death Cure is very well made, Ball and his VFX team bringing their world to life via sweeping aerial shots of the devastated post-apocalyptic backdrop, along with the polished Last City, which becomes an all-out battleground in the flick’s explosive last act.

The performances are by and large decent, with the girls faring better than the guys in this third testosterone-fueled go-around. Overall, Dylan O’Brien has done a good job as Maze Runner front man Thomas, even if he’s failed to capture the charm and charisma that’s made him such a favorite amongst Teen Wolf (2011) devotees. Kaya Scodelario, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), brings a smidgen of depth to the character of Teresa, who continues to support W.C.K.D. in their attempts at restoring humanity (betraying her friends to do so), whilst Rosa Salazar — who we’ll see more of later this year in Robert Rodriguez’s Battle Angel Alita — is kick-ass as rebel fighter Brenda, the budding actress elevating the film’s silly love-triangle. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Love Actually (2003), has a few good moments as Thomas’ right hand man Newt, while Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan (1998), makes the most of his brief screen-time as Vince, the scraggy leader of the Right Arm.

Shocked & A-mazed

Elsewhere, Game of Thrones (2011) regular Aidan Gillen hams it up as over-the-top antagonist Janson, whereas Patricia Clarkson, Easy A (2010), fails to register as W.C.K.D.’s leader, Chancellor Ava Paige. Then we have Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight (2015), who looks to be relishing his role as a gruesome resistance fighter named Lawrence, a nose-less half-man half-crank that plans a full scale revolt against the ‘wicked’ governing body. Last but not least (spoiler alert?), Will Poulter, We’re the Millers (2013), reprises his role as Gally, who was supposedly killed in the first adventure, Thomas’ former adversary back from the dead, this time helping O’Brien and his pals break into Last City.

Look, when the smoke clears, it’s safe to say that, despite an overlong 142-minute runtime and the usual hiccups associated with adapting a popular property such as this, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a good ending to an all-round good-ish series. Plus, I don’t know about you, but it’s refreshing to see another one of these movies making it all the way through to the end.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is released through 20th Century Fox Australia