Maze Runner: The Death Cure review

There’s a lot to like in the final installment of the Maze Runner series. Maze Runner: The Death Cure is not a perfect movie — no movie that tries to have its cake and eat it too truly can be — but as far as franchise blockbusters go, it’s not too bad.

Most of the credit goes to Wes Ball, who directed all three Maze Runner movies, and has proven to have a deft touch when it comes to action. (He’s given the added advantage, here, of having several landscapes to work with, as his characters traverse the desert, a series of underground bunkers, and a futuristic city.) The opening of The Death Cure, for instance, drops us in the middle of a full-on train robbery, and the entire scene is a Mad Max-ian thrill. But, of course, all good things must end, and almost as soon as the sequence moves on, it becomes clear that this is gonna be a bumpy ride. There are other similarly inspired scenes scattered throughout The Death Cure; it’s just that getting from one to the next can be a trial.

That’s not, it should be noted, for lack of trying. The Death Cure is committed to moving things along at a clip to the point that there’s basically no exposition whatsoever, which may throw people who didn’t watch the first two Maze Runner movies (or just forgot what happened in them) for a bit of a loop. Luckily, there’s nothing in the plot that can’t be put together with a little patience and a few context clues. Dylan O’Brien stars as Thomas, who represents humanity’s last hope as one of a select few teenagers immune to the virus that sent the world into a tailspin. He’s sought by WCKD, the government agency responsible for putting the maze in Maze Runner, as they believe they might be able to find a cure for the virus in his blood.

This is where things start to fall apart. Despite their obviously evil branding (WCKD is pronounced as you’d imagine, i.e. “wicked”), WKCD’s mission makes sense. To wit, Thomas’s erstwhile love interest, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), has defected to join them, as they seem to be the only people with the resources to be able to research and then develop an effective cure and prevent the rest of the world’s population from succumbing to a virus that turns them into zombies, or, in Maze Runner vernacular, “cranks.”

Arguably, though, this isn’t really a movie that cares all too much about the logistics of the plot. It’s the emotional throughlines that carry the movie — the love triangle between Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), for instance, or Thomas’ commitment to keeping all of his friends safe, which is what leads him back to WKCD in the first place instead of just up and escaping. It’s all for good and evil, and In those terms, WCKD is evil, and that’s that. Though the franchise might be a little more grown-up than its peers (it’s certainly more violent, and not in a way that feels false), it still runs on a black and white metric.

As the film’s big bad, Janson, Aidan Gillen is terrific as always, and is also one of a frankly impressive roster of character actors who’ve dropped in and out of the franchise to spice things up (the previous installment notably boasted Lili Taylor and Alan Tudyk, and Giancarlo Esposito and Barry Pepper are holdovers). Though the series’ young leads all do an admirable job (particularly Salazar, in a relatively thankless role), their older counterparts tend to steal scenes right out from under them.

It’s Walton Goggins who is this installment’s big surprise. As a resistance leader, he appears with several layers of “crank” make-up and without his nose, and manages to turn the dial up from low-level mob boss to Fury Road war boy in the meager time he’s allotted. Plotwise, his character is just taking up space — the movie runs 142 minutes, and feels it — but he’s so much fun to watch that it’s hard to complain about the detour. On a broader scale, that might as well be the working ethos of the entire movie, though not all of the stumbles it takes can be dismissed so generously.

In the end, the problem is that there’s just too much movie. This feels somewhat inevitable given the inherent difficulty in translating something from the page to the screen, but it can’t be taken as an excuse. There are so many set pieces that seem like they might be the final one that when the movie finally does end, it almost feels like you’re being faked out, and there’ll be one more scene left to wrap things up. It’s fun for a while, and then it starts to get a little wearying, especially as the same character dynamics play out over and over again.

Then again, dystopian YA is a genre that’s built on tropes, so it makes sense that the Maze Runner franchise should abide by its rules. In fairness, it does better than many of its peers (the Divergent series, which fizzled out before it could come to an end, comes to mind), and the action outstrips even some of its non-genre competition by leaps and bounds.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Karen Han is a writer based in New York, via the midwest. She writes about film, TV, and Tintin, among other things.