They pulled out all the stops for the finale to the lightly-regarded “Maze Runner” trilogy, a young adult action series devolved on the “Hunger Games/Divergent/Mortal Instruments/Giver” model.
The action beats, stunts and effects of “Maze Runner: The Death Cure” are impressive. Equally impressive is the way this series has morphed from a “Lord of the Flies,” kids trapped in a deadly maze opening into something with “Star Wars” ambitions and looks.
It’s all chases, firefights, explosions and exposition — yeah, they’re still explaining explaining explaining this saga three movies in — for those who like that sort of thing. They’re considerably clumsier re-introducing the plot, the forgettable-between-“Maze Runner installment”-characters, re-setting their relationships, remembering who has died in the previous installments though in these sorts of movies, the deaths are often “soap opera/Lord of the Rings” death — not necessarily permanent.
And wrapping it all up seems like the hardest thing the production team had to wrestle with. The damned thing hits climax after anti-climax, and ENDlessly goes on and on and on. For the love of mercy, start the credits!
Still, it begins with a bang, an over-the-top ambush of a trainload of “uninfected” prisoners by the band of free uninfected sort of led by Maze-survivor Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his peers, even though the grizzled Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito, on point as always) and Vince (Barry Pepper) are the adults in the room.
Or in this case, in the Road Warrior Jeeps, chasing down that slow-moving, heavily-armed train. It’s comforting to know that after The Flare plague infects humanity and turns one almost everyone into The Walking Dead, those reliable 1990s Jeep Cherokees will still be getting the job done.
Thomas is hell-bent on rescuing the captured Minho (Ki Hong Lee), because…well, he knows the movie’ll do better in China with him in it. Not rescuing him from the train means he and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) and the irrepressible Brenda (Rosa Salazar) will have to track him down wherever WCKD (“Wicked,” a trifle “on the nose, right?) has taken him.
“There’s no guarantee we make it back from this!”
“This” being the last refuge of organized science and government, a walled city where Patricia Clarkson rules, Aiden Gillen is her ruthless security chief and the Great Love of Thomas’s young life, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) has become “one of them.” She’s “turned,” a “traitor.”
Because…she’s racing with the last vestiges of organized society to find a cure. That’s why they keep kidnapping and forcing phlebotomies upon the uninfected. They’re trying to track down, with the technology they still have available, what keeps Thomas and his ilk virus free. Sure, they’re desperate to save their own skins. But it’s the human race “the bad guys” are buying time for.
I like villains with a rational point of view, a legitimate motivation for their villainy. They’re enslaving the young and disease-free for science!
There’s an hour and a half of breaking into that fortress city (always too easy) and introducing the soon-to-be-infected lower classes, rioting and locked outside their walls (Walton Goggins of “Vice Principals” is a half-gone guru to that lot). During this time, we’re reminded how Brenda’s unrequited crush on Thomas drives her actions, about the others who died before them, not all of them wholly dead (apparently).
It’s a bit much, first and foremost. Tedious. One cliffhanger after another, one dramatic “cavalry rides to the rescue” moment after another — they’re just wearying after a while.
The video-game style gunplay is endless and disquieting. Storm Troopers (not really) are mowed down, good guys hit in the shoulder, leg or maybe the gut (for a touching bit of near-bleeding out). Is Russian money to the NRA behind all this “Recruit the Next Generation of Gun Nuts” propaganda?
Esposito and the two leading ladies have the only “moments” that stick with you. Salazar, in particular, brings empathy and heart to the movie with a longing you just know the hero won’t acknowledge. Gillen is a one dimensional villain, and Clarkson, in the obligatory White Woman Villain in Charge role, makes one wish she was getting better offers.
Effects guru turned director Wes Ball got great production design and some splendid combat set pieces out of this, and amps up the tension with a nervous, jumpy camera and tight editing.
But really, the most impressive thing about this Young Adult franchise is what it was able to do that so many “Giver,” “Mortal Instruments,” “City of Ember” and “Divergent” series were unable to manage. They get it across the finish line.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements
Credits:Directed by Wes Ball, script by T.S. Nowlin, based on the James Dashner novel. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 2:22