‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ Review

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Our Rating

Plot Contrivances6
6

A-maze-ing grace…

Following on from events in ‘The Scorch Trials’ Thomas and the remaining members of the resistance regroup and take the fight directly to WICKED, mainly in the form of infiltrating the last city on Earth to both rescue the captured Minho and put a stop to their cruel agenda once and for all…

Once upon a time the phrase ‘Young Adult‘ had a very different meaning. Back in the day it was most commonly deployed as a term to describe anyone in their late teens , seemingly on the cusp of adulthood, and navigating the difficult hinterland where the teens become the twenties and all the possibilities that life seemed to hold slowly drain away to reveal the miserable, depressing, soul-crushing reality… Sorry, wandered off there… These days, however, things are very different (not the part about life being disappointing…)., and ‘Young Adult’ is a term used to describe a particular genre of fiction. Usually bound up in sci-fi trappings, and almost always featuring a teenaged hero or heroine (because, you know, adults can’t be trusted), YA novels and sagas have become big business over the last 20 years or so, and for the same reasons that any successful book usually takes off, because they offer basic wish-fulfilment and escapism from the humdrum everyday. Now you may think it’s odd to describe stories that are often set in post-apocalyptic worlds, involve the leads finding themselves in seemingly constant jeopardy and feature huge amounts of bloodshed as ‘wish-fulfilment’, but if you were a teenager, stuck in your repetitive cycle of school/college/dead-end job/boring home life/unrequited crush, any story that makes you and those like you the most important people in the universe is going to get your attention. And it’s thanks to these readers that writers such as Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, James Dashner and Stephenie Meyer (and many others) are amongst the most successful and influential writers currently working. With the level of success these books can enjoy (sales measured in millions, whole sub-cultures growing up around characters and the worlds they inhabit), it’s perhaps inevitable that film adaptations will come along, and it’s here that success is far less guaranteed…

In a way, you can lay the blame for that at the door of one Harry Potter. Although J K Rowling’s literary juggernaut doesn’t exactly belong in the YA genre, the staggering, phenomenal, worldwide success of both the original novels and the subsequent film adaptations lead to producers and studios frantically hunting around for the next big thing. And with magic being the main element of the Potter series, that seemed to be the initial focus, with 20th Century Fox bringing adaptations of Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson’ novels to the big screen (the first two of them at least). Featuring a basic plot that has the gods of the ancient world living in New York, and fathering children with normal humans, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (2013) were moderately successful, but critically derided, and the series has not continued. This didn’t stop studios continuing to option novels for adaptation, but the failures continue to outweigh the successes. Neither Beautiful Creatures (2013), The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (2013) or The Giver (2014) made it past one instalment, while the Divergent series started strong, but petered out to such an extent that the expected final film never materialised, instead being replaced with a proposed TV series, which has also yet to appear. Of course, in amongst this lot there are some genuine monster successes, namely the Twilight saga (2008-2012) and the The Hunger Games series (2012-2015), movies that made millions and millions of dollars at the box office, created legions of devoted fans and launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s hottest young stars. So where does The Maze Runner series fit in to all this? As it happens, somewhere in the middle…

For those not in the know, The Maze Runner series, as written by James Dashner, is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi saga set across five books (the original trilogy plus two prequels) that tells the story of a world devastated by natural disasters and disease, and the somewhat twisted attempts to find a cure for that disease. Admittedly that’s a somewhat loose description, as it doesn’t do justice to the truly ludicrous nature of the actual plot contained within the novels. For instance, the first book, simply titled The Maze Runner, begins with a teenage boy waking up to find himself in a forested glade surrounded by the giant walls of a maze, and accompanied by a small army of other teenage boys, none of whom seem particularly happy to see him. Through a series of violent incidents and more-luck-than-judgement misadventures the boys, and one girl who joins them later, eventually escape the maze, only to discover that they are the subjects of a ridiculously convoluted trial designed to find a cure for the disease (known as ‘The Flare). If anything the second novel in the series, ‘The Scorch Trials’, ups the confusing ante by sending our heroes off on a protracted chase sequence that takes in a mysterious building, the ravaged and scorched lands most affected by solar flares, ruined cities, flare-infected hordes, allies who may or my not be trustworthy, another group of maze survivors, as well as heaps of good old-fashioned betrayal. By the end your head is spinning with the daftness of it all, and that’s before you’ve made it to the third book, the somewhat optimistically titled The Death Cure.

Although the novels were successful, they didn’t achieve the sort of world domination enjoyed by the likes of Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen and whatever those vampires are called in Twilight. But they were popular enough to make movie adaptations a strong likelihood, with 20th Century Fox deciding to take the chance. Although the first film is fairly faithful to the source material some minor changes did occur. For instance, most of the major characters were aged up slightly, making it easier to cast some of Hollywood’s most attractive up-and-coming talented twenty-somethings, as oppose to a bunch wooden kids (see the first few Harry Potter movies for the problems this can cause). This approach was significantly expanded in the second movie, as most of the plot was jettisoned in favour of a much more streamlined and straightforward ‘chase across the desert’ storyline. Other elements, such as a telepathic link between two major characters and the use of teleportation devices, were also ditched, presumably for being too far-fetched (!?). And all of these alterations, taken as a whole, mean that, as we head into the final movie in this trilogy, it will almost certainly bear little resemblance to the source novel. And so it proves… Moving away from the grim introspection and near-relentless pessimism of its source, it begins almost exactly where things were left at the end of The Scorch Trials, albeit with six months having elapsed, with our heroes battling against the evil WICKED organisation, and attempting to save the lives of some children, no doubt bound for some hideous lab. After some success here, the main part of the plot kicks in, as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden), the main survivors from the first maze, decide to attempt an audacious rescue of Minho (Ki Hong Lee), another maze survivor who is currently in WICKED’s custody. Accompanied by resistance fighters Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), the group attempts to infiltrate the “last city on Earth” (never named, but bland enough in appearance to be anywhere), and bring WICKED down for good. This will involve encounters with WICKED’s head honchos Ava Page (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen), as will as fellow maze survivor Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), whose earlier betrayal of the group still smarts.

If you’ve watched enough of these movies, or indeed just stuck to the books, you’ll have a pretty good idea where all this is heading. The significant plot changes lead to a thrilling, if somewhat predictable, climax involving urban warfare, double-crosses, triple-crosses, characters thought dead suddenly reappearing, brutal fist-fights and last-second changes in fortune that alter everything, and owe a significant debt to the finale of ‘The Hunger Games’ series. However, it feels much more meaningful here, as these characters have been together as a group since the first movie (most of them anyway), and are not just a platoon of disposable cannon-fodder who are just there to make sure the hero survives. To help you believe in these characters, you need strong acting, and that’s an area where these films have excelled, mainly be casting decent actors as oppose to big stars. While O’Brien is decent as our hero Thomas, he’s also nicely unthreatening, as if someone found a way to distil the essence of Christian pop into human form. Happily he’s supported by strong work from Brodie-Sangster (familiar to some from Game Of Thrones, and to others for Love Actually) as the highly intelligent and logical Newt, who can make the decisions that Thomas won’t or can’t, and Scodelario, who does fine work as the deeply conflicted Teresa, unhappy with WICKED’s brutal methods, but convinced it’s for a greater cause. There’s also consistent strong support from the reliable old stagers in the cast, such as Esposito and Barry Pepper as the resistance leaders trying to save as many people as they can before it’s too late, Clarkson as the nominal villain, the scientist who refuses to see the human cost of her actions, and Gillen, who manages to outdo his most famous creation, Lord Petyr Baelish AKA Littlefinger, as a man so villainous he would sacrifice a whole building full of innocent children to save his own life. The effects work is also excellent, with the gleaming city standing as a nice counterpoint to the surrounding emptiness, while imaginative costume and vehicle design helps convey the sense that, rather than being a battle between those infected and those trying to save them, this fight is actually more about class, wealth and privilege than anything even remotely noble. Something to ponder in these ‘interesting’ times…

A good friend of mine has a theory that esteemed director, and former Richie Cunningham, Ron Howard doesn’t make good or bad films, he merely makes ‘alright’ film. It’s a theory that holds water, but if you don’t believe me just watch a bunch of them and you’ll see what he means. You won’t hate them, but you won’t love them either. And it’s a position in the pantheon of movie directors that Wes Ball, the man behind the camera for all three ‘Maze Runner’ movies, seems to be aiming for. The Death Cure is just like the first two movies in this series, undeniably well-made, but neither fantastic nor terrible. You will find yourself invested in the characters and their stories for the two-hour+ run time, you will care about the sacrifices and decisions they make, while their ultimate fate will have you gripping your armrest as things build toward the conclusion. And, chances are, you will have forgotten all about them within twenty minutes of leaving the cinema. And, in many ways, that’s no bad thing. It’s the role that this sort of movie serves these days, to take you out of day-to-day routine and provide some escapist nonsense to entertain you, if only for a couple of hours at a time. ‘The Death Cure’ is, like its two predecessors, neither brilliant nor dreadful, it is merely ‘alright’. And in a world that seems to regularly demand that we fall behind one extreme idea or another, with no grey areas allowed or tolerated, that’s actually rather refreshing.

About author

TheMetalHead

Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.