The good news is that the creators of the third and final installment in the successful Maze Runner series have refrained from stretching out what was meant to be a trilogy into four parts. If only other YA-geared franchises such as Divergent and The Hunger Games had done the same. The bad news is that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is so bloated and runs so long that it begins to feel like two movies. Interminable dull stretches blunt the impact of undeniably exciting action sequences, making the series finale unlikely to leave even fans wanting more.
Its release having been delayed by the on-set injury of star Dylan O’Brien, this entry picks up roughly six months after its 2015 predecessor Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials left off. The film starts off with a bang in the form of an excitingly staged, multi-prong assault on a bus by the Gladers (if you have to ask who they are, you haven’t seen the first two films). They include Thomas (O’Brien) and his cohorts Frypan (Dexter Darden), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and their fellow resistance fighters Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). Their target is a bus filled with children being sent to a research facility where scientists will sacrifice them in the hope of using their blood to find a cure for “The Flare,” a plague that turns people into zombies referred to as “Cranks.” The villainous organization is called WCKD, pronounced “Wicked” despite the canny dropping of vowels in its name.
Having rescued the kids, the Gladers head to WCKD’s headquarters in a skyscraper-filled city so they can rescue one of their own, Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who has been taken prisoner and subjected to cruel experiments. They also aim to settle a score with their former comrade and Dylan’s love interest, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who has apparently turned traitor. Along the way, the not-so-dead Gally (Will Poulter) once again joins forces with them after having caused all kinds of trouble in the first film.
Upon entering the city, Gally tells his comrades, “I know it’s hard, but act like you’ve seen it before.” That advice should be easy to follow for viewers of the series who by now are very familiar with its recycling of dystopian sci-fi drama tropes. The fact that young people seem to be so drawn to bleak depictions of the future should probably be cause for alarm.
Wes Ball, who has directed all three entries, once again shows a flair for staging high-octane action sequences. He outdoes himself here with such thrilling set pieces as when (yet another) bus filled with children is rescued from certain destruction by a giant crane that swoops down, lifts up the vehicle and flies it high over the city before landing it on its back. But for every scene that excites there’s another that sinks into tedium. By the time the villainous scientist played by Aidan Gillen sighs in the middle of a fight scene, “OK, that’s enough,” you’ll have long since come to share his weariness.
Although the younger performers have effectively grown into their roles (the charismatic Poulter, delivering wisecracks with perfect comic timing, is the standout), it’s not surprising that the older veterans make the most vivid impressions. Besides Gillen, they include Patricia Clarkson, delivering subtler shadings to her reprisal of her evil doctor; Esposito and Barry Pepper, who truly seem to be enjoying their heroic characters’ derring-do; and Walton Goggins, who briefly shows up as a resistance fighter suffering from either a form of leprosy or the worst case of acne on record.
The deaths of several major characters seem to indicate that Maze Runner: The Death Cure will indeed be the final installment of the series. But hey, that doesn’t preclude a reboot some day in the dystopian future.
Production companies: Gotham Group, Temple Hill Entertainment, Oddball Entertainment
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar, Aidan Gillen, Walton Goggins, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Wes Ball
Screenwriter: T.S. Nowlin
Producers: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Lee Stollman, Wes Ball, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Eddie Gamarra, Joe Hartwick Jr., T.S. Nowlin, Daniel M. Stillman, Lindsay Williams
Director of photography: Gyula Pados
Production designer: Daniel T. Dorrance
Editors: Paul Harb, Zimmerman
Costume designer: Sanja Milkovic Hays
Composer: John Paesano
Casting: Denise Chamian
Rated PG-13, 142 minutes