You can look at Maze Runner: The Death Cure as the third in a trilogy, or as the final installment in YA Post Apocalypse 9, a five-year project that encompasses the Divergent and Hunger Games movies.
The latter genre, alas, peaked after the first Hunger Games, when the spectacle of selfish-interested adults sacrificing teens to a Thunderdome-ish meat grinder was fresh, and seemed to reference real-world issues — inequality, rust belt and rural unease, competition for limited slots of survival/success, drawn from literature that understood the way teens had internalized all of these things.
The Hunger Games had the closest connection to these themes, and it also had Jennifer Lawrence. The Divergent and Maze Runner series’ inevitably felt a little less original, a little less timely, and both leaned more heavily on familiar science-fiction conventions.
The last of them — Maze Runner: The Death Cure — is given over to almost pure spectacle. It’s a 143-minute action film, often unusually violent and sadistic for a PG-13 movie, with spectacle apparently intended to provide excitement lacking in the characters and story.
Death Cure dutifully picks up where Scorch Trials left off: A contagious virus is turning Earth’s population into rampaging zombies. Patricia Clarkson and Game of Thrones‘ Aidan Gillen lead a draconian and dictatorial faction (inartfully branded by the acronym WCKD) that wants to experiment on the bodies of teens with promising immune systems, identified by their ability to survive various trials.
Thomas (Dylan O‘Brien) leads a group of renegade teens (Dexter Darden, fellow Thrones‘ alum Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who escape the trials, link up with resistance fighters (Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Barry Pepper), and now intend to attack WCKD in its fortified citadel, where Thomas’ one-time love interest Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) has gone over to the dark side, and is now supervising ruthless experiments on Minho (Ki Hong Lee), attempting to develop a serum from his blood.
The movie chronicles the exhaustive process of infiltrating the city, its towering walls, its zombie hordes, its heavily armed security teams. It’s an ordeal, both for Thomas and for the viewer. It was literally hazardous to star O’Brien, severely injured on the set, which delayed production by several months, and has led to the abiding sensation that Maze Runner is a series that has lingered too long. Also, some of its stars have aged out of the YA space.
A few more years and they’ll be in The Expendables.
And they’ll be well-trained, given the grisly gunplay and fistfights that comprise the movie’s extended, endless finale. Director Wes Ball allows nearly every scene to overstay its welcome, including and especially the 10-minute hovercraft cliffhanger that forms the finale.
“Teen” heroes wait to be saved as buildings collapse, violent chaos erupts, plague-tainted individuals transform into zombies and pursue the uninfected.
The takeaway: Get your flu shot.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
- Directed by Wes Ball. With Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scoladerio, Eexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Ki Hong Lee and Aiden Gillen.
- Running time: 2 hours, 23 mins.
- Parents guide: PG-13 (violence)
- Playing at: Area theaters