As far as the recent crop of high profile film adaptations based on Young Adult novels go, “Maze Runner” kind of feels a bit underappreciated.
Neither of the previous films were particularly great but they’re also not bad and seem to operate at least fully aware that all their material really amounts to at best is a solid matinee popcorn flick — admittedly with several stretches of rather inspired filmmaking breaking up a stock “teenagers rebelling against the top of the dystopian social hierarchy” plot line which is far from fresh but adequately executed.
The largest criticism leveled against the series relative to its intent as light but harmless entertainment for the blockbuster crowd, and presumably the younger audience with an attachment to the source material, is the questionable decision to abandon the titular Maze aspect that made its first installment a novelty. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” is no exception.
Despite having the problems of a run time that overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes, exacerbated by an overdependence of emotional investment in characters and a story that never quite flourishes as well as director Wes Ball’s admirable directorial choices, the end result is still a diverting little romp that knows to wrap its story up before returns start to diminish.
Dylan O’brien reprises his role as Thomas, leading a group of boys his age that he found in an underground maze against the organization WCKD (pronounced wicked), whose extreme measures to find a cure for a plague zombifying humanity has led their very charges and populace in open revolt of their lack of ethics.
After the groups betrayal at the hands of one of their own in the previous film, Thomas and his friends team up with local rebels and escaped prisoners to mount a final assault on WCKD and end their perceived abuse of power once and for all.
From opening sequence to end credits, what you see is essentially what you get as far as this series is concerned. Even without the novel concept of struggling within the mystery of the maze, “Maze Runner” has continued to sell itself on being a tightly paced, plot light, atmospheric action thriller that knows how to get just enough character out of its cast’s solid performances before one begins to question just how much range some of the actors may have.
Continuing from “Maze Runner: Scorch Trials,” “The Death Cure” continues to show its director’s worth in creating engaging action with fun set pieces, tight editing, and a great use of camerawork to disorient without leaning into shaky cam incomprehensibility. Ultimately, however, the greatest flaws of the film are almost unanimously in the area of story. The performances go a long way to cover up how pedestrian the dialogue is and how little many of the story mechanics just don’t work in the way they’re being sold if you think about it for more than a few minutes.
The full scale war waged with WCKD in the final half is downright surreal to watch when you think of how little build up really went into it across the entire series let alone this single entry and the areas of grey that the film attempts to establish as far as the organizations extreme actions never manage to sell them sympathetically in the slightest.
As previously mentioned, the film also has an issue of leaning to heavily on emotional investment that never really materialized for general audiences the same way the franchise’s more successful contemporaries have, although I’d be remiss to not mention a contributing factor to that would probably be the movie’s 11-month delay following O’brien’s unfortunate and severely injuring set accident that suspended production back in 2016.
All of these miscalculations are an expected par for the course, but “The Death Cure’s” most crippling flaw is that it’s unfortunately a tad bit too long for its own good.
Right when things seem like they’re about to wrap up, a new villain makes his presence known and extends the climax beyond reasonable length and makes the details of the actual ending that plays out feel unsatisfyingly murky.
The biggest flaw of the “Maze Runner” films has always been their lack of ambition and “The Death Cure” falls right in line with that very issue. Fortunately, the series’ saving grace has always been its sincerity and an admirable workman-like effort and craftsmanship put into the final product.
While the uninitiated need not bother, “The Death Cure” is a decent enough way to kill an afternoon if you’ve already seen the first two movies.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.