THE MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Wes Ball

Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Aidan Gillen, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Barry Pepper, Rosa Salazer, Giancarlo Esposito, Ki Hong Lee, Jacob Lofland, Walton Goggins, Katherine McNamara, Nathalie Emmanuel.

The Maze Runner: The Death Cure successfully brings to a conclusion the generic, post-apocalyptic dystopian saga based on the ambitious but hugely popular series of novels written by James Dashner. And unlike a couple of other YA adaptations, at least here the producers resisted the temptation to split the final film into two parts.

In 2014 we were first introduced to a group of heroes, known as gladers, who were mysteriously abducted and dropped into the centre of a glade and confronted with a labyrinthine shape shifting maze that contained a variety of deadly challenges. In the second film, subtitled The Scorch Trials, the gladers were pursued across a ruined landscape, left devastated by a global pandemic known as the Flare Virus, which turned large sections of the population into zombie-like creatures known as cranks. They also learned that they were the subject of a series of experiments by the sinister quasi-government research agency known as WCKD (which is an anagram for the unwieldy World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department), who were hoping to find out why they were immune and use their blood to help develop a cure.

This third instalment in the series takes up the story a few months later. We see the gladers and the rebel army led by Vince (Barry Pepper) take the fight into the walled enclave known as the Last City, the last safe bastion of civilization in America, that also houses WCKD’s towering HQ and its laboratories.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) have been trying to rescue their friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the clutches of WCKD. The film opens with an excitingly constructed set piece, a high-speed raid on a train, that will have audiences recalling Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the best out and out action films of the past decade.

Once the dust settles, the gladers, with the help of resistance fighters Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) enter the heavily fortified compound known as the Last City. Thomas comes face to face again with the turncoat Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and again meets up with his former nemesis Gally (Will Poulter) who was presumed dead.

Along the way they also free 28 other teenagers that have been imprisoned. However, they never stop to question the morality of their mission, which seems to put these 28 teens ahead of the rest of humanity that WCKD’s scientists are supposedly working to save.

Once again, the film has been adapted by T S Nowlin and while it remains fairly faithful to the source material, he and regular director Wes Ball, who has helmed the series from the start, have beefed up the action quotient here. With each instalment in the saga though the film has moved further and further away from its origins and the early concept of the maze and its challenges, and has become more or less another variation of those other popular YA dystopian adaptations like Divergent and The Hunger Games.

Ball, a former visual effects supervisor, handles the formulaic action proficiently enough here, and maintains a kinetic pace throughout. There are several exciting and well-staged set pieces and lots of pyrotechnics that dwarf anything else in the series. They have been deftly edited by Paul Harb and series regular editor Dan Zimmerman. The wide screen cinematography from Gyula Pados (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, etc) is also a plus, adding to the slick visual look of the material.

However, the overlong climactic battle sequence seems both cliched and exhausting. It is also surprisingly violent for a YA novel. The special effects that create the scorched earth as well as the glittering futuristic city are quite impressive.

The talented young cast acquit themselves well. O’Brien recently showed his action chops in the recent American Assassin, which was actually filmed after this, and he handles the physical stuff convincingly enough here. He also brings strong emotional conviction to his performance. Production on this third instalment was delayed due to an injury O’Brien suffered while filming one of the key action sequences.

Patricia Clarkson is largely wasted and given little to do as the evil and cold-blooded head scientist Ava. Game Of Thrones’ star Aidan Gillen is menacing as Janson, the head of security, who is a one-dimensional villain, but he relishes the opportunity to chew the scenery here. Walton Goggins (from tv series Justified, etc) is also wasted in a fairly thankless role as the ghoulish and heavily disfigured leader of a resistance movement. Poulter delivers some welcome touches of humour to temper the action.

Even though there is plenty of action and Ball does a good job of maintaining the momentum, the film is a little cliched and generic. And it does seem a little overlong at 142 minutes. There are numerous romantic entanglements and subplots that do unnecessarily add to the uneven pacing of the middle sections. Nonetheless this is easily the best film in the series, and brings the saga to a satisfactory conclusion.

★★★

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