Maze Runner: The Death Cure
2018, PG-13, 142 min. Directed by Wes Ball. Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosa Salazar, Aidan Gillen, Walton Goggins.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 26, 2018
The opening action sequence of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the third film adaptation of James Dashner’s hit YA series, is such a corker it takes a minute to remember that series star Dylan O’Brien suffered a severe head trauma on set doing a stunt that shut down production for a year. Should we feel bad for delighting in The Death Cure’s breathless action scenes? And what if the action is one of the only things worth cheering here?
Interestingly, that year delay means The Death Cure is showing up in theatres after the YA apocalypse trend has seemingly crested. The Hunger Games had its last supper in 2015. Its heir apparent, the underperforming Divergent series, died on the vine with the announcement its final installment would relocate to TV, and its star Shailene Woodley signaling she wouldn’t go with it. The 5th Wave was a nonstarter. Arguably, the appetite for ruined civilizations onscreen has dried up. Shit’s pretty bleak in the real world already.
Then again, the Maze Runner series has forever struggled to have something impactful, or even coherent, to say. The philosophical arguments that animate other YA works of fiction – about despotism, racialism, state propaganda, and utilitarianism played out to its most bone-chilling conclusions – translate more gobbledy in the Maze Runner universe, which is definitely on the side of memory-wiped, lab-rat-like teenagers getting the fuck out of mazes concocted by scientists so wicked it’s literally spelled out in their department letterhead: WCKD (World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department). But then it turns out (to collapse some of the first and second films' reveals), this department’s ethically questionable practices have been in service of finding a cure for a global pandemic that’s turned most of the planet’s population into zombielike hordes called Cranks. And at least one of their lab-rat teens has returned to the WCKD fold because she believes it’s worthy work. And oh yeah, they might be close to a cure. But these other emancipated lab rats want to blow the lab up for good.
The Death Cure is at its absolute best when something’s getting blown up, or a plan is being hatched to blow something up: Series director Wes Ball is aces with action, and almost as effective with the procedural steps to get to said action. It’s the in-between that’s one long “huh.” The methodology of every faction here is head-scratching – not just that of WCKD and the insurgent teens, but also other pockets of resistance, including one led by the terrific character of Walton Goggins (Justified), who has a list of demands for his co-conspirators that I can only assume will make more sense when the deleted scenes pop up on The Death Cure’s eventual DVD release.
Despite his injury, O’Brien seems to be in fine fettle, and his everyman likability forges an easy rapport with two of the standout supporting players, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Rosa Salazar, who is not only the film’s style icon of apocalypse chic (dig that thermal, covet the bangs), but also its Éponine – that is, the cool, tough, eternally devoted gal pal inexplicably playing second fiddle to a milquetoast. These young actors transcend T.S. Nowlin’s lackluster script – not exactly saving the world, sure, but they do save The Death Cure from being instantly forgotten.