Okay, okay, I know the term “exceeds all expectations” makes it sound like this movie is some sort of January miracle, which it isn’t, but remember “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”? There wasn’t really much of a movie there. I enjoyed it on my first watch, but every subsequent watch found me realizing just how dull the film actually is, with minor characters we don’t particularly care about dying left and right, and Teresa going to WCKD’s side in the end, not much really happened. Then, during the filming of “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” the finale to the series, main star Dylan O’Brien suffered a serious injury during a stunt, leaving him in a coma, shutting down production for over a year. The film, while heavily delayed, finally came to fruition, but do people still care? I surprisingly found myself answering “yes” to that question once the film started.
Set a short time after the events of “The Scorch Trials,” the group of Gladers remaining, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Frypan (Dexter Darden), as well as new friends in Brenda (Rosa Salazar), Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Vince (Barry Pepper), fight to free Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from WCKD’s grasp. After a failed heist of a train car carrying Minho, the group soon realizes he’s in the recently discovered “Last City,” where WCKD’s main base is located, as well as Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen). The group must travel together and infiltrate the city to save Minho, and hopefully Teresa, before it’s too late and WCKD takes over the world.
Okay, so “The Death Cure” is a bunch of steps ahead of “The Scorch Trials,” but definitely not on the same level as “The Maze Runner,” which is all I really asked for, to be honest. When I heard John Paesano’s strong string section of his orchestra, I knew I had returned to something much more familiar and homelike about the series that just wasn’t captured in “The Scorch Trials.” The boys felt more like a team and a family, rather than just random bystanders placed together by chance. The characters felt much more consequential, especially Brenda, who quickly became more of a compelling female character than even that of Teresa, really resting on Salazar’s incredibly affable performance that surprisingly makes me more excited for “Alita: Battle Angel,” even if her eyes still look absolutely insane.
Other members of the cast are also as strong as ever. O’Brien, despite being known as the “Teen Wolf” pretty boy, really does great work as Thomas, creating more than just an attractive young protagonist, but someone of real charisma. Scodelario isn’t given as much to work with here, which doesn’t bother me as much, since much of the female protagonist role has been taken over by Salazar’s Brenda, but she still presents a complicated character that’s still fascinating to watch. Though, this time, it’s Brodie-Sangster who gets his place in the sun. Always the underdog of the series, I was so happy to see Newt finally get the chance to shine as a main character and really find his strength and emotion in his character.
Director Wes Ball, having now directed the entire series, really earns the “a Wes Ball film” credit on the film this time around. Hands down, this is the best directed “Maze Runner” film to date, with tons of homages, but balanced well to feel much more organic than most films of this nature. I get tons of “Blade Runner” vibes with the film, a little bit of “Mad Max” every now and then, and even a twinge of “Alien” and “Resident Evil” every now and then. Ball finds a way to balance all of this into something cohesive and beautiful. I wasn’t able to see the film in IMAX or Dolby Cinema, but I can only imagine, especially with special IMAX optimization, that the film is gorgeous in either format. It really is a very well-directed film.
One thing I will say, “The Death Cure” is long; 141 minutes long, to be precise. You do feel it much later in the film that it’s about time for them to wrap it up, and there are quite a few scenes that feel like could’ve been cut entirely and it wouldn’t have hurt the film in any such way. The film doesn’t really drag by any means, but the film does begin to feel like its runtime at a certain point, and that does bring the experience down just a bit.
What keeps “The Death Cure” from reaching the levels that the first film in the series brought? Well…the maze. I know that the books never go back into the maze, but I found that it was those exciting sequences that really heightened the film’s stakes to a place that created for an often times legitimately stressful experience. There was a kinetic sense of desperation in these boys’ survival, something that doesn’t feel quite as effective let loose into the wide open world of the dystopia surrounding them. I wish there was a way that this one could’ve returned to that sort of claustrophobic race against time, even if its change to something a little more sci-fi based worked well in its favor.
I have a soft spot for the “Maze Runner” movies. Even if I can’t bring myself to like “The Scorch Trials” as much as I should, the first film is a haunting YA adaption that’s stayed with me since seeing it in 2014. Perhaps “The Maze Runner” being one of the first films I reviewed for the Niner Times also inspires a lot of nostalgia for my early days as a Freshman at UNCC too, but I really do find these films fascinating. Much more than I ever found something like “Divergent” to be. They aren’t as powerful as the “Hunger Games” series and especially nowhere in the ballpark of “Harry Potter,” but these films have such a distinctly different vibe about them that I don’t care. They’re different, and even if they don’t hit every ball out of the park, they still provide something new, something exciting and something worth re-watching. I’m happy to see the final film in the trilogy go out on such a high note, really bringing me back into the franchise for one last ride.
Directed by: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Aiden Gillen, Walton Goggins, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper, Will Poulter, and Patricia Clarkson.
Runtime: 141 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some thematic elements.
Also available in IMAX, Dolby Cinema and premium large format theaters.
Twentieth Century Fox presents, a Gotham Group/Temple Hill/Oddball Entertainment production, a Wes Ball film, “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”