When THE MAZE RUNNER burst onto the scene back in 2014, it shoved its way into a marketplace already crowded with teen dystopian franchises based on YA novels. Katniss had already shot her arrow at authority in THE HUNGER GAMES. THE GIVER, THE HOST and DIVERGENT had already come and gone from cineplexes. Even when author James Dashner’s novel debuted in 2009, it had to be squeezed into a large bookshelf overstuffed with books featuring a similar, rather reductive narrative. Yet audiences continued to flock to these “chosen one” stories – a head-scratcher given Dashner’s series leaves more questions than answers about the world it builds. MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE, director Wes Ball’s third and allegedly final film in the franchise, is no different. It utterly fails to do anything surprising or spectacular that hadn’t already been laid out in the previous chapters. In fact, it’ll just make you cranky.
Our beloved “Gladers” Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) are now a fractured faction: Teresa betrayed the gang, joining up with WCKD for the greater good of finding a cure for the solar flare virus. Minho has been captured and experimented on by the evil corporation in the hopes that his immune blood holds the cure. In order to rescue their pal, Thomas, Newt and Frypan must break into WCKD’s walled-off stronghold, “The Last City,” a sleek, shiny, skyscraper-landscaped metropolis. With aid from badass Brenda (Rosa Salazar), her father Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), and virus-infected resistance fighter Lawrence (Walton Goggins), there’s no way their mission will falter. But as they seek to put an end to WCKD’s criminal activities and corruption, head honcho Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and her maniacal henchman Janson (Aidan Gillen) are hot on the outlaws’ trail.
If you haven’t seen the other two films, why start now? Don’t make this your entry point. Maybe it’s best you sit this series out, full stop. Unlike THE SCORCH TRIALS, this final chapter does not begin with a recap. It relies solely on the audience having seen the other two films. Instead of being its own self-contained unit, it’s got the sensibilities of a “part two.” There’s a lot of filler here too, which makes the excessive 141 minute run time feel excruciating. The wholly unsatisfying epilogue is almost guaranteed to send you over the edge. From the giant screaming spider-scorpion hybrids the “Gladers” call “Grievers,” to the virus-infected zombies they call “Cranks,” to a return of a shady, long-thought-dead character from their past (who could’ve been an entirely new character and it wouldn’t have mattered), to Thomas’ middle-finger salute to Janson, the callbacks to the previous two films don’t do much but add padding to the narrative.
Unfortunately, anything resembling smarts in T.S.Nowlin’s screenplay, and maybe in Dashner’s books for that matter, is completely overridden by the stupidity of its logic. Its main concern isn’t with the narrative momentum, or character-driven actions as it should be, but rather with big, hulking action set-pieces. The disheartening fact is these things could’ve co-existed in a property like this. There’s an act three sequence involving a bus full of kids and a crane that shows the filmmakers’ taking the long way around for the purpose of one simple site gag. The way “redemption” is handled is ham-handed. Plus, the women in this world are dealt a disservice, reduced to primarily servicing the “chosen one” male arc.
Rules of this world are constantly in flux, changing whenever the filmmakers need a convenient way out of a scene, or into another, or even prolonging what’s there. Adding to further frustration, the audience is miles ahead of the characters’ revelations – and this predictability leads to boredom. Lingering questions from the previous films plague this picture, compounding its myriad of problems. If WCKD knew the cure was blood-based, why was there a maze? Why were they testing the kids’ intelligence? Why do these kids have to be tortured for their blood donations? Is the only way to get the cure to scare it out of them? And if all the youth aren’t immune (as this film posits), why are WCKD gathering up all the youth? More importantly, didn’t they test the Gladers’ blood for immunity when they were first thrown into the maze – including Thomas’? I mean, they took vials of his blood in THE SCORCH TRIALS, yet no one thought to check it?
While I can admire, from an aesthetic standpoint, the look of each of the MAZE RUNNER films being strikingly different from the last, there’s not much left holding them together. Well, except for the dead-end maze of questions the filmmakers themselves seem to be lost inside.
MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE opens on January 26.