In the first Maze Runner movie, a group of teenagers finds themselves, well, running around the mysterious titular maze in a nifty little B-movie that mixes Lord of the Flies with a Twilight Zone premise from the series of young adult novels by James Dashner.
In the second film, The Scorch Trials, the teens run outside the maze and across a more familiar zombified post-apocalyptic desert landscape.
But there are no mazes or running in Maze Runner: The Death Cure, a perfunctory series finale that is handsomely mounted and full of well-executed action scenes but completely lacks a plot compelling enough to justify its 142-minute runtime.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and friends including Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) have now escaped the clutches of WCKD, the evil corporation trying to save humanity from a devastating zombie virus – by conducting experiments on teenagers.
But they haven’t all escaped: WCKD still has Minho (Ki Hong Lee) in their clutches, and in The Death Cure’s dynamite opening sequence, our protagonists stage a daring moving train robbery to get him back.
It’s a superbly staged and edited scene that harkens back to classic westerns, but while Thomas and co. save a group of teens from WCKD, Minho is not among them. And thus, the next two hours of the film are another attempt at saving their friend, this time by infiltrating WCKD’s base of operations in a walled-off city that recalls George Romero’s Land of the Dead.
No saving the word, no defeating the evil corporation that, ironically, is attempting to save the world themselves. The Death Cure is all about rescuing a friend and getting out of Dodge on a beached cruise ship that resistance leaders played by Barry Pepper and Giancarlo Esposito are trying to rebuild.
Meanwhile, WCKD is still working on a cure for zombie virus, spearheaded by leaders Ava (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen) and assisted by Thomas’ old flame from the maze, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario).
Sure, the evil WCKD has hooked up Minho to a nightmare machine to produce the sweet, sweet fear juice that can be used to combat zombiism. But while their tactics are morally questionable, their goal of eliminating the virus is noble. That’s more than can be said for the heroes of the film, whose dream of starting life anew on a desert island while zombies overtake the world seems hopelessly naive.
Clarkson and Gillen (Littlefinger on TV’s Game of Thrones) should make for a pair of compelling villains, but their character’s motivations are murky; Janson, in particular, seems more interested in getting revenge against Thomas than what should be more pressing matters.
It’s packed with incident and revelations, there’s not nearly enough plot backbone to maintain interest in The Death Cure over the course of 2.5 hours. While proficiently made and a mostly satisfying conclusion to the story, it’s a bloated bore that stand in contrast to the tightly-told first film in the series.
The Death Cure is easily the weakest of the Maze Runner trilogy, but it does solidify the emergence of two genuine talents: director Wes Ball, who handles action scenes here better than most Hollywood directors, and star O’Brien , a genuinely charismatic lead who provides a solid central presence here (and lended the recent American Assassin the same). Both are earmarked for bigger and better things.