Maze Runner: The Death Cure (**) blows up with a fizzle

deathcureMaze Runner: The Death Cure – 2018

Director Wes Ball
Screenplay T.S. Nowlin based on the novel by James Dashner
Starring  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Walton Goggins, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Jacob Lofland

So many years passed since Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, I had forgotten many of the twists with which the previous film concluded. Rewatching the film as a brush up, I wondered how in the heck it ever deserved the *** ranking I gave it. It’s certainly not a horrible film, I guess. Even my review sounded mostly like it was a much worse film.

Now, after O’Brien got injured making the follow up and then had to reschedule it after a couple of other films, it might be a surprise that literally the entire cast was willing to wait for him so they could be in the finale. When watching their performances in The Death Cure, maybe there’s a reason they don’t have such a demanding schedule.

What started out as a bunch of kids battling a walled fortress surrounding them in the first, still the best, film, now has a “rag tag group of fighters” battling to get into a fortress and rescue one of the original kids (Lee), while trying to figure out why they were betrayed by another (Scodelario). Before you can say “seen it before,” we’re granted access to nearly every character we thought we’d lost to the story previously. These characters are changed to suit the needs of the story, adding nothing substantial beyond access through doors and helping evacuate the helpless. Always there when you need them, never there when you don’t.

Clarkson and Gillen are still there as nemesis. Here we have at least one fissure, necessary for the final episode. One of these might not be as bad as the other. The reason for the difference is in the disease that is well on its way to wiping out the citizens of the planet. It’s the reason the kids were running the maze in the first episode, the reason for the zombies in the 2nd, and the reason that we have kids continually being pursued to even this point. If they seem to be playing notes by now, well, they can be forgiven. It’s not like the movie has anything like a story to go with the acting.

The weakness of the story starts immediately with the opening raid. For some reason, the adults in the story have given way to the now young adults. It’s a strange phenomenon in dystopian dramas when adults sit around, waiting for commands from their younger counterparts. It’s strange that these people have been surviving in the toughest parts of the new world, but all of the sudden these new kids come from somewhere and teach them what they’ve been missing.  To get them “over the hump” as it were.

Esposito and Pepper are the two such grizzlers. Given the trajectory of their careers prior to this point, their subservience is off putting and makes them look like goofballs. It’s Gus Fring and Roger Maris! What the heck. Now they just look puppy eyed at Thomas as he tells them what’s going to happen next.

The weight of cliche bears down on the remaining maze runners. In one horrible conversation, Newt (Brodie-Sangster) moves from one of the intriguing characters to a wretched trope, using phrases like “slightest chance,” “no matter what the cost” and “it’s not about me.” It’s enough to make me want them all dead.

It’s not a good sign for the film that we don’t wonder about Scoggins character when he’s not on screen. It’s a worse sign, that we don’t care what happened to him before or even he’s going to be doing next. We know what’s going to happen every time we see a fortress.

If we’d had more time to examine the nature of the ailment and the history of Teresa and Thomas, that might have made the conclusion a more interesting pursuit. As it is, there is never a moment where we expect that someone who goes off-screen for a beat might not return at exactly the time the plot demands. There are a couple of exits that might be unexpected, but by the time this happens, there have been so many explosions and collateral damage, we just want it to end.

O’Brien gives it the old college try this time out. There are no other performances that approach anything more than competence. It feels more like Battle for the Planet of the Apes than Shakespeare.

One of the best parts of this series is that it does have an ending. They didn’t split any of the films into two. They didn’t get cut down by diminishing sales. They did fizzle out, though.

(** out of *****)

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