Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Based on the young adult novel by James Dashner, the first Maze Runner movie released in 2014 stood out from the rest of the young adult adaptations thanks to its clever maze-escape concept and terrific art direction.  Without the maze and introducing the zombie-like victims of the “Flare” virus, the 2015 sequel, The Scorch Trials, felt somewhat less original.  Now, after a delayed release to 2018 due to an injury to its star, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is set to finish the trilogy.  With its lengthy runtime and action finale as fiery as Mount Doom, The Death Cure wants to end things in grand fashion, but Lord of the Rings this franchise is not.

The movie picks up shortly after the last film ended.  Teresa has betrayed her friends and joined with the evil corporation WCKD, who have also kidnapped Minho and many others, torturing them in an effort to find a cure for the virus.  Our hero, Thomas, sets out to not only rescue Minho and the others, but to shut down WCKD for good so that hopefully he and the members of his community can begin life anew and live in peace.

Their mission requires them to infiltrate “the last city,” which not only houses WCKD’s headquarters but is home to thousands of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives.  These are the first “average citizens” we have met in the Maze Runner universe.  They walk the streets wearing business clothes and carrying briefcases.  There are coffee shops and stores lining the street.  In one scene, taking place high above in the WCKD tower, we see traffic moving along on a roadway below in the background.  It left me wondering what these people knew about what was going on in the world.  Are the filmmakers trying to make a point about how people will just continue to go about their daily lives even while their world is on the verge of horror and chaos?  And what happened to all these people in the film’s disaster movie-like finale?  The movie never answers.

WCKD also does not come across as evil in this film as it was portrayed in the first two films, at least not the scientific side of the organization.  They are portrayed as a company doggedly seeking the cure for the disease that has plagued the human race.  Even if some of their methods are unethical, to say the least, their mission is a noble one.  Characters like Patricia Clarkson’s Dr. Ava Paige, portrayed like a mad scientist in the first two films, is treated sympathetically by the filmmakers here.  And by doing so, the ultimate fate of everyone at the company—and the city, for that matter—feels more cruel than deserved.

But the military side of WCKD, led by Aidan Gillen’s Janson, is definitely a villain we want to see taken down in grand fashion.  But there does not seem to be much motivation behind Janson’s villainy outside of the fact that he just hates Thomas.  At one point he turns the city’s giant defensive weaponry on a crowd of peacefully protesting citizens and murders hundreds of people, just hoping that Thomas might be one of them.  This seems especially crazy given that the film has been establishing that Thomas might actually be the most important person for WCKD to keep alive.

The movie is pretty much wall-to-wall action, but none of the action scenes really stand out from the other, aside perhaps from how chaotic it gets at the end.  The movie’s opening action scene feels like something right out of the Fast and the Furious franchise, but lacks the adrenaline boost that franchise has become famous for.  And much of the action throughout the movie relies on some incredibly well-timed plans by the good guys, which of course the movie never lets us in on.  We are left to be thrilled by the perfectly timed arrival by one of the good guys while hopefully not thinking about the logic of it.  And there are a lot of people rescued by cranes, suggesting an alternate title for the film: Crane Ex Machina.

There is constantly something happening in The Death Cure, but that does not keep its 142 minute runtime from feeling about 30 minutes too long.  And the franchise hasn’t quite earned the multiple endings it tries to deliver, something even a prestigious trilogy as Lord of the Rings could not avoid being criticized for.  The first Maze Runner film was certainly enjoyable and fairly original, but the franchise has stumbled downhill from there, feeling more and more generic as it went along. The Death Cure tries to send the series out with a bang, but it feels more like a whimper.

The Death Cure is now playing at the AMC Kent Station 14, AMC Southcenter 16, Century Federal Way, and Renton Landing 14. 

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.

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