Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

“We started this together, may as well end it that way too.”

After three films, 6+ hours of screen time, and a trio of blandly written books, I couldn’t help but exit Maze Runner: The Death Cure with shrugged shoulders and wonder out loud, “what in the hell was the point?” Why is the obvious and occasionally meaningful subtext overridden by blasé gun fights and a generic zombie apocalypse? What motivates the so-called antagonists’ inner conflict? How does the paranoia fuel the characters? Smart mysteries beget questions because they’re well thought out; by comparison, The Death Cure just inspires a befuddling, puzzling, unsolvable stance. Impressive set pieces and stunt work highlight an otherwise routine, innocuous end to the degenerative YA genre as we’ve come know it.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is back and remains on an accelerated auto-pilot as a young man who seems to act solely on the convictions of his gut. He’s a boring character, the kind of adolescent stuck in that childish stage where questions are unreasonably asked until there are no more logical answers. “Why? What? How?” He’s determined to save his fellow GLADERS from the original maze, teaming up with old faces like Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who’s actually pretty good here) and determined to save others like Minho (Ki Hong Lee). Love interest and turncoat Theresa (Kaya Scodelario) works for WCKD, the mastermind organization searching for a cure to the deadly Flare virus. Things blow up and buildings topple and then the story simply ends. In The Death Cure, plot points are scattered without reason, and if the film feels lifeless, it’s because there are no stakes – literally and metaphorically – for the movie to remind itself where it should water in order to reap what it’s attempting to sow.

On a story level, this franchise floats along without a sense of purpose, drifting around its own futuristic landscape like a piece of plastic bag tumbleweed subject to ever-changing breezes. Maybe that’d work if the story were more stripped down and barren, allowing itself to be admired for its simplicity like that famously bizarre yet poignant scene in American BeautyBy comparison, The Death Cure is a tornado of gaudy silliness and we’re trapped inside the storm’s eye, watching the garbage swirl around and wreak havoc on anything and everything. No film in this franchise has lacked for action, yet only the first installment really had any sort of righteous intent.

While uneven and rather derivative, I enjoyed 2014’s Maze Runner because it was so shrouded in secrecy. It forced us to imagine the skin beneath its layers, whereas the abysmal second film Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials instituted unrestrained chaos, and this last entry has stripped away the clothing altogether. The Death Cure is a naked film, sorely lacking in tone and style and purpose. That director Wes Ball finished off this damned series is a bit insane, and I desperately hope that his coming endeavors will encounter far smarter scripts that highlight his visionary ability and obvious proclivity for practical effects. Maze Runner: The Death Cure runs itself into a wall with no trap doors, no side alleys, and no way out alive. The true death knell of this franchise isn’t that it operated without thought, but that it thoughtlessly tried to be so much like its crappy contemporaries, choosing to be obligatory and easy rather than necessary and demanding. Let this one pass.

“It stops when we find a cure.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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