1.5 out of 5 stars.
Let’s be real, the whole dystopian YA fad began to fade—at least on the feature film front—a couple years ago. So maybe that’s partly why “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” feels like too little too late, especially after having its release date delayed by a year due to an injury sustained by star Dylan O’Brien on set. This third and final installment in the “Maze Runner” trilogy is one repetitive, bloated, 142 minute chase sequence with little characterization or, quite frankly, sense.
“The Death Cure” is directed by Wes Ball, who also helmed the previous two installments. The second film was decent, but the first one was particularly good, an effective, bare bones thriller that stood out in the crowd of dystopian franchises. Ball’s familiarity with this series makes the messiness of this third film all the more perplexing. It starts off well enough, with an exciting action sequence in which Thomas (O’Brien), his friends from the maze (all of whom are immune to the infection that ravaged the world, turning people into zombie-like creatures referred to as Cranks and making them the target of WKCD, a group trying to use their blood to manufacture a cure), and members of a resistance group called the Right Arm hijack a train transporting immune children to the Last City, where WKCD is based out of. Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are looking for their friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who was captured by WKCD after Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) betrayed their location to the organization at the end of the second film. I know that’s a lot of exposition and I’ll stop there, because you really don’t need to know anything more going forward for the rest of the film. The rest of the film is a cycle of characters pursuing each other—running, not through a maze, but through the Last City, looking for Minho. They are deterred by Teresa, Ava (Patricia Clarkson), the head of WKCD, and Janson (Aidan Gillen), who wants to find a cure not to save the world, but to save himself (he is among those inflected) and a select few preferred individuals.
The story had a lot of potential to explore more in depth issues, like the class divisions that obviously exist in this dystopian future (we get a scene of inflected people protesting outside of WKCD, while the corporation obviously appears to only want to help the upper class). But it doesn’t. After the film’s effective opening scene, it drags for a bit before picking up again, but things get confusing due to the introduction of way too many characters and factions, who all go up against each other in a literally explosive final act. The story also opts for the simple and clichéd solution of giving Thomas super blood that can destroy, not just delay, the infection. We don’t know if there’s a reason why Thomas is so special, other than that he just so happens to be the protagonist and that it’s convenient. Even more confusing is the fact that nothing ever seems to come of it anyway; the ending leaves us in a rather ambiguous spot, as our heroes appear to retreat from the world, rather than attempt to save it.
Despite a large cast that includes some very talented actors, no one really stands out here, with the exception of Brodie-Sangster, who has some nice scenes that serve as the emotional core of the film (if it has one). We also have to give props to O’Brien for sticking the film out after what was apparently a very serious injury, as well as the filmmakers, who didn’t drag the series out unnecessarily by splitting the final entry into two parts, as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” did. I have yet to read the “Maze Runner” series, so I have no frame of reference outside of the movies, but I have to ask if it was all worth it. I hope for fans of the books that it was. For me, this unsatisfying mess is a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise promising series.
Runtime: 142 minutes. Rated PG-13.