The Maze Runner is a strange franchise. Languishing at the tail-end of the dystopian YA craze, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of things we’ve all seen before, yet the films themselves are so average that no one really notices when a new one reaches cinemas. It’s faired better than sister property Divergent, which never got to finish, but it’s still a world away from your Potters and Hunger Games.
The Death Cure brings its own baggage to the table, of crouse, finally reaching our screens a full year later than planned due to a serious on-set accident that led to star Dylan O’Brien being hospitalised.
After a rescue mission fails to retrieve Minho (Ki Hong Lee) Thomas (O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and the others plan to break into WCKD headquarters. Meanwhile, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) continues to look for a cure to the disease, and the infected living outside of the city’s walls (led by a wonderfully hammy Walton Goggins) plan a full-scale revolt.
As was the case in the previous installment, The Scorch Trials, the women are the highlight. Now revealed to be working both sides, Scodelario offers a merciful note of nuance (Aiden Gillen’s on the other end of this scale as Janson) to proceedings, her character never wavering from what we know to be her central motivations. Rosa Salazar as the tough-as-nails Brenda is also a welcome presence in what has been a heavily male-led franchise.
The rest do their best with what they’re given, O’Brien slowly becoming a Hollywood curiosity simply for being a potentially great actor saddled with bad roles in bad films. His status in the Maze Runner franchise is the most egregious example of this, with the character never really coming alive with the charisma and humanity he’s become known for amongst Teen Wolf viewers. That said, despite the break in filming, it’s hard to see the join.
The main problem with The Death Cure is the same problem that has plagued the entire franchise – none of it makes a lick of sense. The maze itself was an extremely theatrical, long-way-around method of getting the resources that WCKD needed, and this film posits that during that time no one bothered to test the blood of the kids inside.
Then there’s the ideological issue, which is never given its due. The problem facing humanity in this scenario is that a few must be sacrificed in order to give the many a chance – a classic ethical issue. The setting of Death Cure then adds a 1%-ers element to the problem, with Ava Paige and Janson hiding in their ivory tower as the infected burn below.
But because the scientists are the baddies, and Thomas is our protagonist, we’re clearly supposed to side with the lads on the issue. Honestly, it’s hard to buy into the life and death scenarios when everyone is acting against their own interests. Thomas and the others could save the world if they just had a cup of tea with Ava over a blood transfusion, but they’re too stubborn to do so.
If you ignore all of this, The Death Cure is easily the best film in the series. Despite being way too long and maddeningly meandering in places, there are some great moments along the way. The excellent opening sequence, especially, kicks things off perfectly with an edge-of-your-seat train chase that (helpfully, for non-fans) re-introduces all of the main players.
Once we get within the city walls, the pace rarely lets up and it’s here the films benefits most from its assembly of actors. Thomas struggles to make a mark, but O’Brien does good exhausted pathos and the chemistry with both Scodelario and Salazar makes this one of the most interesting love triangles (which is a slightly unfair label for the film’s dynamic) of the genre in recent times. There’s also a bit with a bus and a crane that’s just insane enough that it works.
Most book fans will be looking forward to the Newt arc, I’m sure, and without spoiling anything I’ll say that it’s one of the film’s other highlights. In the adaptation even more than the books, this is a love story between the occupants of the maze – an unashamedly emotional demonstration of platonic male loyalty and affection in a world where such things are rare to see.
But while that doesn’t quite redeem the film from its plot and logic holes, unnecessary length and all of your typical problems that come with adapting a novel to appease an internet-era fandom, the fact that The Death Cure has overcome its obstacles to become a decent finale for the franchise is a miracle in itself. For eager fans of the book it’ll hopefully be worth the wait.