Saturday, March 3, 2018

Though Plagued By The Same Problems of It's Predecessors, Maze Runner: The Death Cure Ends It's Series On A Decent Note

Divergent couldn't do it. The Mortal Instruments, The Fifth Wave and Beautiful Creatures, none of them got past one installment. But The Maze Runner did it, it managed to be one of the few movie adaptations of a young-adult book series adapted in the wake of the success of The Hunger Games to actually not just get a sequel but also adapt all the books it was supposed to adapt. Only Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight have managed to do that, so take a bow Maze Runner, you earned it. Plus, unlike Hunger Games, this series ended on it's best entry yet, even if this newest adventure, The Death Cure, is still plagued by the problems that haunted its predecessors.

The story for this final Maze Runner adventure kicks off in media res as lead character Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and company try to save Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the clutches of the organization called WICKD. This sequence is a fun one that establishes character dynamics efficiently and is filmed in an exciting manner. Of all things, this opening scene recalls the stand-alone adventures that always served as a prologue of sorts to the various Indiana Jones movies, a quick mini-movie meant to quickly establish the tone of the movie that's yet to come and also show what kind of escapades our protagonist gets into on a regular basis.

After this scene, Thomas decides to continue his pursuit of Minho by traveling to The Last City, a place where the headquarters of WICKD is located. In order to break into the building where Minho is being held captive, Thomas and his pals will need the assistance of former ally Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who turned out to be working for WICKD in the last Maze Runner movie. The rest of The Death Cure can't live up to it's thrilling opening scene, but the fact that this movie decides to rely mostly on surface-level excitement turns out to be a smart move. None of these characters are all that interesting or complex, so they really work best as chess pieces one can move around during well-staged chase sequences.

The fact that this Maze Runner movie shoves all kinds of disparate elements into one plot also makes it plenty watchable, with creatures that are basically zombies (returning from the second Maze Runner film) showing up for a chase sequence while a bunch of people led by an underused Walton Goggins living in the post-apocalyptic wasteland feel like they came out of a Mad Max knock-off in the 1980's. Do all the elements mix together cohesively? Not really, but T.S. Nowlin's script deciding to basically just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks for this installment does culminate in results that are at least interesting more often than not. It's also nice that the story (mostly) forgoes belabored explanations for why certain oddball occurrences happen and that includes the resurrection of a character from past movies both the characters and the audience clearly saw die.

Unfortunately, The Death Cure has a major problem keeping it from fulfilling it's fullest potential and it comes in the lead character of Thomas. I already mentioned how nobody in the Maze Runner movies is all that interesting or complex and that's especially true of Thomas, who, despite Dylan O'Brien showing flashes of solid acting, never ended up becoming a compelling protagonist, he's just such a bland and ill-defined individual one can never get invested in. A lot of key emotional moments, including one with his buddy Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) lack the punch they should have and it especially makes the melodramatic tortured relationship he has with Teresa (which revolves around where he still love hers even after she betrayed him) a slog to get through.

Since much of the dialogue-heavy second act is devoted to this exact relationship, The Death Cure ends up suffering big time as a result, especially when it comes to pacing. A bevy of underutilized supporting actors, including Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson and the aforementioned Walton Goggins, also make The Death Cure feel like it's not using all the assets it has as it's disposal to their fullest potential. Kudos to The Death Cure for going much weirder than the typical YA-novel movie adaptation, and director Wes Ball shows enough promise as a director here to make me curious what he does next as a filmmaker, but a lack of engaging characters ensure that the highest praise I can offer this project is that it's "The Best Maze Runner Movie".

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