Movie Review: “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”

There are probably minor spoilery things below in terms of discussion of plot bits that don’t work. I have left out the names of people at these moments of discussion, but the discussion exists.

In the “Maze Runner” films, all of which are directed by Wes Ball and based on the novels by James Dashner, there is a virus wiping out humanity. It causes humans to turn into zombie-like creatures called “cranks.” The bad guys, a company called WCKD (that’s how you know they’re the bad guys), have been developing a cure, and part of that pursuit involves locking teens in a massive maze. The good guys are those kids who were in the maze and the random people they meet along the way.

If you think that the good guys are also for saving the world and rescuing all the other kids who have been taken by WCKD you be wrong. Very wrong. Led by Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), in this new, third, movie in the series “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” it is made clear that while they are happy to save others, that is not their primary objective. The primary objective is to make WCKD hurt. And, even if it isn’t a true objective, they do successfully make one perplexing decision after the next as the film progresses.

This all starts with a needlessly complicated train heist featuring Thomas, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), and more. The goal of the heist is to rescue the group’s friend, Minho (Ki Hong Lee), but the specifics of their actions make little sense. Certainly there is an additional dramatic effect in the way the heist is carried out, but the elevated drama, while good on film, puts the group in additional, needless, danger.

Over and over again in “The Death Cure,” Thomas and his fellow gladers (as they are known) make choices that fall into this exact same pattern – they heighten the filmic nature of the proceedings but do so at the cost of logic. At one point the audience gets to watch as their vehicle slowly travels through a tunnel and they wave lights around a tunnel they suspect to have cranks in an effort to… not attract the zombies? When a building’s destruction seems imminent they run to the roof to… be surprised that they’re on the top of a skyscraper with no good ways down?

To be sure, Thomas and friends aren’t the only ones who make illogical choices. One WCKD security agent, Janson (Aidan Gillen), also makes some astoundingly terrible choices. Perhaps he is blinded by rage at certain points, but the ebb and flow of that feels off.

By no means is it just characters who make bad choices though, the narrative offers twists of its own that have little sense to them. For instance, one individual thought to be immune from the virus turns out not to be immune because… well, there’s no reason within the narrative that is remotely cogent. One idea for this person’s vulnerability is tossed off, but it is never explored and goes against everything the audience has come to understand about WCKD and their search for a cure. Separately, one individual who was ill is cured and somehow all these people who live in terror of the illness, who have to be well aware of its effects and how long any treatment works against the illness, seem to not recognize the change (including the person who is cured).

Several times over the course of the film, Ball will have people split up and then fail to follow one or more individuals. Then, when all hope seems lost for our heroes, one of the people the movie hasn’t been tracking saves the day. If done well, this might work once, but seeing it repeatedly makes it more disappointing every time it occurs.

Moments like the train heist and some of the dramatic escapes and reversals as Thomas and his friends attempt to take out WCKD; Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson); and maybe even their former friend, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) are incredibly exciting to watch. The logic may repeatedly fail, but Ball’s visuals rarely do. Some of the individual moments and sequences are wonderful, what they are not is grounded in the logic of our world, or the story’s world. This is a movie where the highly-trained soldiers couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn but the kids are great shots.

“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” feels uninterested in exploring anything in too great a detail. It is a film entirely focused on escapes and reversals and explosions and tricks and traps and forced drama. It is long, running two hours and 20 minutes, but little of that time is used to thoughtfully explore any of the major issues to which the film nods, be it the end of the world, the construction of walls to keep out a group, good old-fashioned greed, or mankind’s hubris. It could in fact be argued that the most deft thing the movie does is to sidestep these discussions.

Those who have stuck with the “Maze Runner” series to this point will, undoubtedly, want to go see this final(?) installment. A group of people will even find ways to argue for the film’s brilliance. The vast majority of the audience, however, will find this to be another spectacle film full of sound and fury and, sadly, signifying nothing.



photo credit: 20th Century Fox

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