Dir. Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, and Aidan Gillen.
Maze Runner has always seemed like the overlooked franchise in the recent spate of Young Adult movies. It doesn’t hit the high watermark set by Hunger Games, but is leaps and bounds better than the Divergent series. The first film was a nice sci-if mystery, with elements of Lord Of The Flies. The second film lost its way a bit. It broadened the world, but perhaps over reached with too many characters vying for screen time. It also morphed into a zombie horror, which was too intense for its target audience. Wes Ball seemed to take the criticisms on board though, and The Death Cure is a half-successful course correction.
The Death Cure finds Thomas as the leader of the rag-tag team who escaped the maze in the first instalment. After discovering that the world has been ravaged by a virus, and the maze was a test to produce anti-bodies from those immune to the virus, which seems to be secreted when they feel fear, Thomas and friends set out to get their friend Minho back from the company WCKD. They trace him back to the last city standing, which hides behind a massive circular wall. They’ll need to break in using the help of former group member turned WCKD employee Teresa, who is desperately trying to find a cure.
The Death Cure is a huge improvement on The Scorch Trials. It’s clear from the opening sequence, a fantastic train heist, that this is a different beast of a movie. The sequence is taught and lean, not stopping to catch you up on the action. It’s a superb set piece with some great practical stunts, which throw you immediately back into Thomas’ world. When the plot does kick, it’s a simplified one. Find Minho, and rescue him. Ball even keeps it down to mainly the original members, shredding the extra baggage of The Scorch Trials bloated cast. This works incredibly well, leaving you with the people you care about, and Ball stages some great set pieces around them. The opening sequence is one of them, and there’s a terrificly tense tunnel sequence which takes its cues from Stephen King’s The Stand. Ball tones down the horror elements, to a degree that suits this movie much better. In fact, it’s within the references and homages that you see where Ball’s sight is set. There’s bits of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and Mad Max. It’s a lofty aspiration that Ball doesn’t quite rise to.
The big problem with the film is that it’s about 40 minutes too long. The middle drags, and you can feel the film being pulled down by the weight of its role of wrapping up the trilogy in a satisfying way. The extra story elements bloat out the last act, and you can’t help but miss the simplicity of what came before it. It’s not a film with the emotional heft of the Hunger Games, nor does it bare any real life parallels in which to make any lasting statements. The performances are fine, if Aidan Gillen’s villain is more caricature than character. The world looks lived in, and real. If the focus had been kept on just producing a fun action movie, which it was for the firs two acts, then it would have worked a lot better.
In all, The Death Cure starts well, but doesn’t stick the landing, and out stays it’s welcome. What starts out as fun soon becomes dull. It’s a noble failure though, as Wes Ball corrects a lot of the mistakes of The Scorch Trials, and knows how to stage a great action set piece, and fills his film with likeable, if bland, characters. It’s an entertaining, but forgettable thrill ride.