“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” Movie Review


     There was a lot written in 2015 about “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller and the fact that at the age of 72, he was still showing the younger generation of filmmakers what a properly constructed action sequence looks like done properly.  You wont be watching “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” for more than ten minutes before you realize director Wes Ball was obviously paying attention.  In fact, you get the feeling Ball was likely busy watching everything from “Aliens” to “Resident Evil” during the three year long hiatus between the new film and the series’ second installment “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”.  That’s not to say Ball hasn’t brought the franchise based on the popular YA novels by James Dashner to a satisfying conclusion, but one can’t help but to notice the debt the series owes to the production designs and action set pieces of several notable classic science fiction films.

     The first in the series, 2014s “The Maze Runner”, had a number of unique attributes even when compared to the glut of YA films at the time attempting to cash in on the success of “The Hunger Games” franchise.  When you think about it, it’s actually quite an accomplishment that this third installment made it the screen given the downfall of its one time competitor “Divergent” and the failure that series has endured in getting the final installment produced due to poor box office reception.  It’s likely what allowed “The Maze Runner” to succeed was the fact it features a male lead, Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas, and thus avoids the inevitable comparisons to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” which Shailene Woodley’s Tris character in “Divergent” could not.  

     O’Brien, who spent the time between installments starring opposite Mark Wahlberg in 2016s “Deepwater Horizon” and Michael Keaton in 2017s “American Assassin”,  now seems like a grizzled veteran as Thomas, the first to escape the maze and currently the would be savior of human kind from the deadly virus plaguing the human race.  His confidence in the role is obvious, and the support he gets from several key characters only enhances his effectiveness as a leader within the band of rebellious teens who seek to take down the authority figures within the story, a hallmark theme of every YA novel.  Somehow we have come to a point in our own history where children have become so entitled and given so much so early in their lives, that they come to believe at a very young age they know enough to succeed on their own, adults be damned.  And of course, it’s the adults in these stories who possess all the power and wield it with an iron fist, setting up the reasoning as to why these kids feel the need to make a stand.  To them, I say good luck with that.

     But in a work of fantasy and fiction, it’s the youngsters who flourish against the nefarious evil doing grown ups.  Whether it be “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, or “The Maze Runner”, you can simply swap the likes of Aiden Gillen’s Janson (“The Death Cure”), Kate Winslet’s Jeanine (“Insurgent”), or Donald Sutherland’s President Snow (“The Hunger Games”), putting them into either of these well known series and you would have the exact same result, as the characters are carbon copies of one another.  And that’s what becomes frustrating about these YA franchises.  When characters can be interchanged between different films with no consequence to the plot or the end game of the story, that’s a problem.  A problem created by the fact that every studio has been chasing the success of “The Hunger Games” by attempting to duplicate the appeal of the characters and the arc of the story rather than creating something original.

     All that said, “The Death Cure” still works on a number of important levels.  Ball, who has directed all three installments, again works from a script by T. S. Nowlin who also has been on board the entire way.  The events of the first two films lead Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Brenda (Rosa Salazar), and Frypan (Dexter Darden) to the Last City where the evil WKCD (World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department) corporation has Minho (Ki Hong Lee) held prisoner, performing experiments on him and other immune children in an effort to find a cure for the virus that turns the population into blood sucking zombies.  At its core, that’s quite a common plot thread in today’s popular culture fueled by the likes of “The Walking Dead” among many other undead populated movies and television shows, but like the highly rated AMC drama, “The Death Cure” succeeds because of the characters and the fact we have been with them since 2014.  There’s been a lot development in these young pups, and along the way they’ve discovered a lot about themselves, who they can trust, and who they can not.

     A revelation from “The Scorch Trials” led to the defection of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) from the main group to join scientist Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) of WKCD in an effort to find a cure.  That obviously didn't go over well with Thomas, as much of the emotional charge within the story relates directly to their relationship as the group attempts to find a way into the Last City and infiltrate WKCD’s headquarters to rescue Minho and put an end to the torturous experimentation being conducted.  A miraculous return of a character long thought to be dead fuels Thomas’ plan and leads to a non stop third act that owes plenty to “Blade Runner” for the futuristic cityscapes the characters traverse, as well as “Aliens” for the climactic life and death sequence that concludes the story.

     There’s also the unfortunate issue of seeing Giancarlo Esposito and Aiden Gillen on screen only to consistently conjure up images of their superior characters in “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” due to the bland and often pointless way in which they are used here.  But overall, the filmmakers succeed in giving the story a worthy conclusion, allowing each of the key protagonists to have several notable moments, while managing to interject a number of surprising turns by characters whose motives may not be what we once thought.  This results in a final installment that is certain to please fans of the series, even if the prevailing issue is we have seen this movie before and done at a higher level.  GRADE: C+