Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

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Directed by Wes Ball

Contains spoilers.

Book-to-movie adaptations occupy this great position in entertainment where they can entertain and also make a buttload of money. In fact, the entire genre of post-modern dystopian future-flicks is held aloft by the book industry. But it's still true, after decades, that the film adaptations don't quite understand the differences in storytelling between books and movies.

Death Cure brings us back to Thomas and friends as they mount a rescue on a WCKD prisoner train but, after safely returning to base, they realize the person they were trying to save, fellow "glader" Minho is not among the saved prisoners. After a brief discussion the rebellious group are able to determine from their own experiences where WCKD's base is and, later, Thomas and his friends leave to go find Minho. They soon arrive outside the base, a large and technologically advanced, walled city, where a slum of desperate people has formed as they try to survive and earn entry to the city. After realizing that they have to sneak inside the city and capture their traitorous friend, Teresa, in order to save Minho, they put a plan in action to sneak in, save their friends, and escape to a haven that's safe from the scorch and the virus.

One of the most irritating things about Death Cure is that, even though the Flare virus is the primary concern (and that worldwide deaths are apparently only around 30-40%... then why are cities already crumbling and the world a damn desert?) that aspect of the story falls to the side, nearly forgotten except for the "cure" aspect. There are a few scenes early on with zombie chase but for the most part the Flare is utterly forgotten in favor of character drama and typical action.

Flare aside, the story itself is incredibly off. The pacing starts off incredibly tense and suspenseful but wastes that action-packed build-up fairly quickly. Halfway through, the story starts slowing down in favor of tired action scenes, wasted rioting, boring gunfights, and slow fistfights... Even Minho, one of the most interesting characters, with huge potential, is wasted. Sure, maybe he shouldn't be the main character, but Thomas is a boring, incapable fighter.


But let's get to the real heart of why the story is bad. After the first act the story and events quickly peter out and can't keep itself up. In a book the kind of back and forth drama of Death Cure might be perfect as it sizzles and suspends it's tension in an avalanche of wordplay. It's an odd situation. A book provides the time and space where an author can expand decisions and mindsets without affecting the pacing of the story itself. But in a movie it becomes tedious. There ends up being scene after scene of characters doing one thing then changing their mind within minutes, a literal back and forth, character flip-flopping, and they're predictable changes, as well. Every beat in the plot is a 

The entirety of the climax and concluding action is almost hypnotically slow in it's string of predictable clichés and dramatic action tropes which is only made worse because after two, prior movies I actually care about what happens to Thomas, Newt, and everyone else. Seeing their slow, predictable demise is painful.


Maze Runner (2014) trailer

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) trailer

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) trailer


Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rosa Salazar, and some others is splendid in bringing their characters to life, despite being bogged down by monotonous dialogue and unnecessary exposition. Others aren't so successful, with Kaya Scodelario, Aiden Gillen, and Barry Pepper turning in particularly wooden, 1-dimensional performances.

Aiden Gillen especially seems to be phoning in Game of Thrones' Littlefinger which is almost understandable as they're similar, underhanded characters. Unfortunately, the result is that he seems like your average dad who's trying to appear threatening. Even though I understand the difficult position of Scodelario's Teresa, she never seems like a real person. Her perpetually bored expression never leaves her face, barely wavering into emotion. Pepper's Vince is similar, although with slightly more brow expression. So even though O'Brien's Thomas and Salazar's Brenda absolutely tear at audience heartstrings it's almost in vain as they act against boring villains.

This boring/emotive crossroads is made all the worse because the soundtrack is so average. It gets the point across as needed but is fairly forgettable. The photography is similarly average. It's a good mix of conventional with CG effects. The world is built up fairly well, even if somewhat forgetfully. It can be annoying at times for some aspects of the apocalyptic world to be tossed to the side while the writers try desperately to create character tension. If more care and time were given to the world-building and establishing certain aspects of the characters and their motivations, and if the dangers of the dystopian world they live in were more present, then the tension, drama, suspense, and action would've been more balanced and easily included in the story.

The first Maze Runner was tense in its mounting mystery and thrills; The Scorch Trials was scary with its introduction of the flare-infected and the scorch; but The Death Cure tries to survive and surprise by being action-packed, which it simply isn't. The action starts out decently with some thrilling chase elements but soon peters out, becoming stale, tiredly slow-paced, and utterly predictable.

It's a shame because Thomas and friends actually have a fun story, or it could be fun if it weren't bogged down by boring, genre-pleasing conventions. Death Cure makes the same mistakes as its predecessors. A sci-fi story exploring an apocalyptic future where humans are on the brink of extinction is not a new concept. Even though the idea of trying to test/use the few immune individuals to find and develop a cure could be interesting to explore, ultimately the Maze Runner series wastes that potential as it really just boils down to being a different exploration of the familiar mythos of the "needs of the many outweigh[ing] the needs of the few" that so many other sci-fi masterpieces have tackled already.

Death Cure takes itself too seriously, just as its prior installments did. If the movie/story were allowed to be fun, adventurous, suspenseful, with actual action then it could've really succeeded. Instead, Ball tries to force drama and emotion into a woefully under-action-packed story complete with multiple twists. It doesn't work. Even though some characters are rich, and some of the suspense is dark and pulse-pounding, and some of the emotional scenes are striking, there just isn't enough to make it really fun or even good.


 

TL;DR: Ya, Maze Runner may be a familiar re-imagining of the young adult, dystopian genre, but the characters and core concepts are interesting. Their interactions and care and the way in which they tackle every situation (okay, like lots of movies like this) are fun, and so is their adventure. The story is boring and the action gets pretty slow, but at the end of the day I still want Thomas and his friends to fight for each other and to find a haven safe from virus and other apocalyptic dangers.

  • Acting – 12 / 20
  • Story – 10 / 20
  • Cinematography – 12 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 5 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 6 / 10
  • Sci-Fi/Fantasy – 6 / 10
  • Other – 5 / 10
 

Grade F = 56 / 100