After The Hunger Games kicked off the YA sci-fi craze in 2012, two years later The Maze Runner premiered and became the unlikely best of the bunch. With a good mix of action, genre conventions, and science fiction stakes, the three Maze Runner films have build a complex world filled with many familiar tropes.
The first film is a stripped down, Twilight Zone adventure. The Scorch Trials vastly opens up the world, introducing the all-controlling evil corporation and a zombie apocalypse. With The Death Cure, the franchise becomes a bit less detailed in specific genre elements, turning into a more bloated but also more adult thriller. As the characters [and their fans] age out of their teenage years, the stakes have to be raised.
Despite these aims, though, The Maze Runner has always been its best when it played to its inherent B-level film instincts. I wish it realized this in The Death Cure more than it did.
What it's about: The gang of teenage heroes led by Thomas [Dylan O’Brien] are still on the run from WCKD [pronounced “wicked” because of course] in the dystopian wastelands. Their friend Minho has been captured, so they have no choice but to travel to the mythical last city and break into the evil empire stronghold to rescue him. Meanwhile, Teresa [Kaya Scodelario] may have unlocked the cure to the deadly virus that turns those infected into man-eating zombies. But in order to truly unlock this cure, she must make amends to the group she betrayed.
This movie is 142 minutes long. One hundred and forty two minutes.
This runtime leads to a lot of the films problems -- though I have to be a little grateful that they didn’t take the easy route of finishing the trilogy by splitting up the last film into two.
The biggest problem is there is just too much going on. Too many characters. Too many subplots. Too much filler. The Death Cure at its peak would have been a great full-on John Carpenter style siege film.
The greatness of the large ensemble cast is limited because many of them don’t get much to do. Aiden Gillen and Patricia Clarkson as the dueling baddies get one pretty good scene together. Barry Pepper is in the movie, then goes a way for a majority of it, and then is brought back in literally with the film saying “look who we found…” Giancarlo Esposito is great when he is on screen, which obviously isn’t enough. Walton Goggins shows up as a half-zombie, which, OK, is totally awesome.
Even the young main core have to be relegated to hitting the emotional and narrative beats pretty hard because so much is jammed in. The two most interesting characters in the series, Scodelario’s Teresa and Will Poulter as Gally, are too one-note serious. Thomas Brodie-Sangster [Liam Neeson’s kid in Love Actually -- he’ll never live that down] is reduced to puppy dog eyes as the film desperately makes him the emotional heart. I think Dylan O'Brien could certainly become a movie star, but this movie doesn’t give him much of a chance to actually act.
As the overall narrative becomes less interesting and more difficult to follow, the film can rely on a number of set pieces to get you through: the opening scene is a fun little desert train heist; there is a Metal Gear Solid style busting into the heavily guarded corporate facility; a bus gets craned through a city; there are some fun, well realized action moments.
I don’t know if anyone has really thought of director Wes Ball as a filmmaker, as the three Maze Runner films is pretty much his entire filmography. He’s grown, though, and I think he could make some cool little action films in the future if that is the direction he wants to take. As I’ve said, The Death Cure has a lot of elements that would have been really interesting films in themselves and Ball hits on those elements well. It just unfortunately has to be the finale of a franchise that has grown too big.