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Review: Maze Runner The Death Cure
Film Critic Matt Taylor is pleasantly surprised by The Death Cure the conclusion to the Maze Runner trilogy
It’s fair to say that expectations for the latest instalment of the Maze Runner franchise, The Death Cure, are muted. The series began way back in 2014, and was greeted with a ‘meh’ reaction. It was a decent YA dystopia, but its reveal at the end didn’t live up to the mystery that had been set out, and a crowded market for YA films at the time didn’t help it. Nevertheless, a sequel (The Scorch Trials) followed the year after, but to even less fanfare. The final film of the trilogy (thankfully not being split in two, as has been the recent tradition) was due soon afterwards, but an injury suffered by star Dylan O’Brien caused it to be delayed (both a blessing and a curse, as the YA fad has since died out, leaving the market open, but it’s been so long between films that people have lost interest). Now, nearly two and a half years after The Scorch Trials, the series is complete, and, surprisingly, the final instalment is not bad at all.
A nice change with The Death Cure is that it actually has a story; The Maze Runner was, in essence, an unravelling of a mystery, and The Scorch Trials was a mess that lurched from set-piece to set-piece with little tying them together. Here, that isn’t the case; following the end of The Scorch Trials (as far as it can be said to have an actual ending), we open here with our main group (composed of Thomas, Newt, Frypan, Brenda and Jorge) on a mission to break Minho free of imprisonment by WCKD.
“Now, nearly two and a half years after The Scorch Trials, the series is complete, and, surprisingly, the final instalment is not bad at all
It’s a solid sequence reminiscent of the likes of Mad Max and Firefly, and sets the film nicely into gear. Following the botched rescue mission, the rest of the film is Thomas and the group’s attempt to rescue Minho from what appears to be the only city left standing in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. It’s a simple yet effective plot that creates room for a lot of entertaining action, much more character development than in the first two films put together, and a surprising amount of emotional weight.
There are two things these movies have been consistently good at: action, and visuals, and The Death Cure doesn’t disappoint in either department. As he proved with the first two films, Wes Ball knows how to direct an action sequence, and what’s on display here is excellent. They’re coherent, exciting, and excellently scored by John Paesano; the standout sequence is too spoilery to go into, but needless to say it’s a belter that packs a huge emotional punch. The bigger set-pieces are great too; the entire third act is mostly edge-of-your-seat stuff that feels unlike anything we’ve seen in this series, with the exception of one sequence involving a bus and a crane that’s so unbelievably stupid it belongs in a Fast & Furious movie.
The film’s great visually too; director Wes Ball’s background as a visual artist certainly shows. The film has a great colour palette (a sequence towards the end showcases a beautiful mix of blues, reds and greens), and the sheer visual contrast between the inside of the technological city ruled by WCKD and what remains of society that’s stuck on the outside is incredible – inside the city walls feels like a cleaner version of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, while outside them is more similar to the setting of Logan.
“The cast are mostly solid: the standout this time around is absolutely Thomas Brodie-Sangster, whose Newt is given much more to do than in both previous films combined
The cast are mostly solid: the standout this time around is absolutely Thomas Brodie-Sangster, whose Newt is given much more to do than in both previous films combined. He carries a good deal of the film’s emotion extremely well, and the resolution to Newt’s arc feels earned. Dylan O’Brien is as reliable as ever as Thomas, whose “save everybody no matter what” attitude is really put to the test here, and Kayla Scodelario puts in a decent turn as Teresa, whose arc following The Scorch Trials is a little predictable, but still fun to watch play out. Aiden Gillen is reasonably menacing as WCKD employee Janson, though his accent is all over the place here (is it Irish? Is it English? Is it American? Who knows?), and Patricia Clarkson is yet again given absolutely nothing to do as Ava Paige, head of WCKD. A mixed bag, then.
A mixed bag is pretty much what the whole film is; it’s mostly entertaining and fronted by some solid performances, but parts of it just don’t work. For example: why didn’t Thomas just use the helicopter to get to the city? How is this person we saw die still alive? Why is that pool of water so deep? Why is Thomas’ blood different to everyone else’s? And how does that bus sequence make any sort of sense? These are reasonable questions that do plague afterthoughts of the film, and indeed viewings of it, but they don’t stop it being an enjoyable affair that, while forgettable, is at least a decent end to the series.
Verdict: The Death Cure is nothing less than a solid end to a decent YA series. It’s also nothing more; it’s admittedly uninspiring and ultimately rather forgettable, but there’s plenty of fun to be had here. WCKD is good? More like WCKD is … passable.