FILM REVIEW: A Slow Agonizing Demise in Maze Runner Finale, DEATH CURE
As far as post-apocalyptic novel adaptations go, The Maze Runner series has not quite achieved the heights of standard-bearers like The Hunger Games, without ever sinking to the depths of other disasters like the Divergent movies. So it is for the third and final act of the saga, The Death Cure, a middling, sometimes entertaining, sometimes obnoxiously pointless film that completes the story of Thomas and his Gladers. It is not so much that there is anything pointedly wrong with the movie, but there are few things right with it as well. Like a slowly decomposing human infected by the Flare virus, the movie itself chokes on itself until an exciting conclusion that comes too late.
When we last checked in on Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), the main “immune” in the story, he was setting on a path to rescue the brothers he bonded with inside fictional mazes from the hands of the aptly emblazoned WCKD (pronounced Wicked) corporation. If you wonder why a conglomerate set out to take any measure necessary to find a cure to a virus that has decimated humanity would initial itself to suggest its vileness, you are not alone. Still, Thomas and his unflappable band, which includes Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Gally (Will Poulter), Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and others, rescue a group of teenagers from being transported on a Snowpiercer-like train to the mysterious Last City, the headquarters of WCKD and its cronies. These include the stoic but determined Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and the somewhat unhinged and violent Janson (Aidan Gillen).
From there on the plot proceeds as if on a rickety train traveling at high speed through an uneven track. Thomas realizes that they did not rescue all of the captive teenagers, including some to which they have unflappable allegiance born out of shared traumas such as Minho (Ki Hong Lee). So, despite having pulled off an improbable escape, they embark on a suicide mission to Last City to rescue the stragglers. There, Thomas knows, he will encounter his secret love Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who betrayed his group to join WCKD’s ruthless search for a cure to unnecessary human death.
The central point of Death Cure (and of the series in general, really) is that the bonds of friendship are thicker than water, so to speak, so that these kids will do anything (die, obviously) for each other. It is a subtle rejection of the calculating and cold approach that adults in the story have, of their somewhat painful pragmatism. It is not that I am an aging curmudgeon that begrudges “those kids,” but the entire post-apocalyptic future begs the viewer to search for answers, including in the form of the cure. That the children think their friendship is more important than doing so raises an entire eyebrow over the movie’s plot.
It does not help that the overwrought emotional weight that the inexperienced actors bring to the table far outweighs the situational mood we are deposited in. The film is also cluttered by needless exposition, clichéd surprises, and awkward dialogue. It just sputters about aimlessly but predictably to an all-but-certain conclusion.
Death Cure is not a complete waste of your time. The climactic action sequences, though overextended, are well executed thanks to nifty and quick camera work. There is enough punch to the heart pound of the final few confrontations to keep you interested even though you may be at that point be annoyed that you are well into the conclusion of the second hour. There is something intrinsically enthralling and appealing about imagining the contours of the apocalypse. None of the players in Death Cure are particularly novel nor imaginative—not the zombies, not the disgruntled surviving rebels led by a creepy-looking dude named Lawrence (Walter Goggins), not the Capital-like denizens of the privilege surviving inner-walls. You have seen them all before in different iterations, and none is especially compelling here while providing just enough entertainment and confusion.
It is perhaps noteworthy that angst-filled fictional worlds engulfed in chaos are so often accompanied by competing teenage mortifications. Like Katniss Everdeen or Beatrice Prior before him, the hunky adolescent known as Thomas must grapple with bombs and emotions, advanced technology with decaying civilizations. In this series, friendship takes on a greater role than romance, to the point of suggesting that one is interchangeable with the other. None of this is a problem, but the kids’ resistance to the adult search for a solution is. Add to all that uninspired action scenes that all meld into each other and the end result is not so much an antidote to death but a recipe for agonizingly painful popcorn entertainment.