There’s an entire category of films which I call teen dystopia cinema. You’ve seen some of these movies, I’m sure, whether it’s The Hunger Games, Divergent, City of Ember, The Golden Compass, The Mortal Instruments, The Fifth Wave, and, of course, The Maze Runner. Maybe it’s simply because teens make up such a large percentage of the movie-going public that this is such a popular theme. Then again, odds are good that we adults are going to screw everything up at some point anyway, leaving the kids to survive the apocalypse and hopefully rebuild.
The world of The Maze Runner is darker than most, however, and the first movie offered up a gripping world where a group of kids were dropped into a giant maze in the middle of what appeared to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Better yet, they’ve each had their memories wiped so don’t even know their names. Now what?
Based on a best selling book series by James Dashner, The Maze Runner offered up a pretty typical story where the kids had to survive and escape by their own wits while adults manipulated the situation and watched them progress with the compassion of a bug collector examining their latest catch.
Seems there was a plague called The Flare that killed the majority of the world’s population, leaving the infected “Cranks”, fast moving zombies that have one desire: to eat anyone they encounter. Some children seem to have a natural immunity to the infection, however, and it’s identifying and replicating their immunity that is the overarching goal of WCKD. WCKD stands for World in Catastrophe Killzone Department. Subtle this is not.
The first film in the series introduced us to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his eventual love Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), another “Glader” who is one of the group that manages to escape the titular maze. Also in the group are Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Gally (Will Poulter), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee). In the second movie, The Scorch Trials, things take a much grimmer turn when they meet up with Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his protege Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and have to survive outside the controlled world of the maze. The antagonists from WCKD remain Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and her head of security Janson (Aidan Gillen).
Which brings us to the third film in the trilogy, Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Fellow Glader Minho has been abducted by WCKD and it’s up to Thomas, Jorge and the gang to rescue him. In fact, The Death Cure starts with a terrific action sequence more in line with a Fast and Furious movie than a YA action film. It’s one of a number of impressive sequences that make this the most thrilling of the trilogy.
The group realizes that they can’t just run away from WCKD and hide, that to really make things better they need to head right to the center of the empire, The Last City. I did say that subtle is not a requirement for this story, right?
Like the second installment of this series, The Death Cure doesn’t actually have any mazes or massive industrial puzzles to solve, but The Last City is surrounded by a massive wall to keep the Cranks out. The area surrounding the city is populated by rebel fighters who are presumably infected by The Flare, but haven’t turned into Cranks yet. Thomas and gang meet up with old friend Lawrence (Walton Goggins) and they figure out how to break into the city and rescue Minho.
Once inside The Last City, it’s Teresa that they bump into, a Teresa who is unrepentant about ratting out the group in The Scorch Trials. “It’s all justified if we can find the cure, Thomas.” she entreats. In the logic of daft cinema, that’s enough for him to immediately trust her again. But who actually has the natural immunity to the Flare? And how can they distill it and duplicate it so a cure can be created?
In one of the biggest leaps of the entire movie, Teresa turns out to be a genius biochemist and it’s up to her to analyze and isolate, something that had me scratching my head over. There are other plot holes big enough to fly a futuristic helicopter through, but that’s another story.
Fact is, The Maze Runner series is an interesting counterpoint to the overly political Hunger Games (the last installment of Hunger Games was particularly awful) and is good entertainment. You might have to let go of expectations of things making sense as you walk into the theater, however, and try to avoid asking about whether they actually find a cure by the time the film ends.
As with too many teen oriented films, Maze Runner: The Death Cure has a rather predictable paucity of good acting, even as the world blows up around the various characters. There’s also a death near the end of the film that has hardcore fans up in arms, but hardcore fans never really love film adaptations.
Most importantly, The Death Cure is an entertaining film that zips along with a number of satisfying action sequences and is definitely worth the price of admission. Just don’t expect a movie that’ll be in the running for the 2018 Best Picture awards…