The Maze Runner franchise is a Frankenstein’s Monster of genres and tropes viewed through a YA lens. A coating of science-fiction dystopia, arbitrary contests/games, the requisite Triangle of Romantic Potential, sprinkled with some zombies for when it gets too boring or heady. None of it is original, but none of it is offensive, either. In fact, quite the opposite: it is constructed, especially with its cast of Attractive Young People, to appeal to as many demographics as possible.
The Death Cure is the third and final film of the series, delayed a full calendar year after lead actor Dylan O’Brien was injured while shooting a vehicular stunt, an injury that apparently could have killed him had he been a few inches where he wasn’t, but one with enough broken bones that they had to shut down production for a couple of months so he could heal.
Following a few months after the conclusion of The Scorch Trials, Thomas and friends are still dead set on mounting a rescue operation for their fellow OG (Original Glader) Minho, who was taken by WCKD. While their new friends in resistance group The Right Arm prepare to take refugees to a sanctuary called Safe Haven, they light out for The Last City, where Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is working with WCKD under Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), continuing to seek a cure for The Flare (yes, there are a lot of names, and some need work).
At two and a half hours, The Death Cure is prone to bloat. Though the filmmakers want it to be the epic conclusion they feel is required of such franchises, it does overstay its welcome with an additional, wholly expected wrinkle towards the end. As if things weren’t already complicated, what with wrapping up threads laid down over the past two films, plus the introduction of an insurrection in this one (led by an always-welcome Walton Goggins).
The rest is a fairly robust popcorn movie, a summer blockbuster somehow squatting in January. There are some thrilling action sequences, some clever bits. Director Wes Ball has enough of a visual flair to keep the proceedings interesting and exciting to watch, dropping cameras out of windows, and keeping things spatially established, with clear goals and trackable action.
Dialogue is mostly perfunctory, but nothing particularly groan-inducing. A couple of the emotional scenes really land. But as with previous instalments, plot really dictates every action, from action scenes to unnecessarily crude behavior from would-be saviors. Patricia Clarkson, a gifted actress, never got anything really worth her time and talent in all three films. Other actors left in the lurch include Giancarlo Esposito, who inhabits his character well despite the material he’s given. Nathalie Emanuel, who joined the franchise at the last twenty minutes of the last movie, is barely even in this one, whichh just begs the question as to why they even bothered casting her.
Even main character Thomas still barely has much character, besides a devotion to his friends and a drive for seeking answers that never really got much explanation or exploration as to its origins. It’s not exactly a spoiler that his special status is cemented here, even if multiple characters had already said as much in prior films.
The progression of the movie, through action sequences and genres, feels like stages in a particularly hectic video game, something of the first-person-shooter Call of Duty variety. Though this concludes the Maze Runner franchise, we can rest that it finished better off than most YA franchise wannabes do: either as non-starters or having worn out their welcome, stretched thin as cash-grabs. The Death Cure doesn’t elevate itself to the greats, but is still better than most expected it to be.
Photos from Twentieth Century Fox via IMDb