MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE – Review
It’s kind of a slow month at the movies, so join me in a cinema experiment (cue Kenneth Strickfaden’s sparking, buzzing Frankenstein lab equipment). That’s because this weekend’s new flick is a real rarity for this time of year: a franchise entry. To be more precise, it’s the third part of a trilogy based upon (oh oh) a popular series of young adult novels (that sends a chill up my spine, only matched by the name “Nicholas Sparks”). And its setting is a most familiar backdrop for such stories, a dystopian future. The first one came out in 2014, followed a year later by the middle entry. But why the nearly three-year wait? Being “heavy” on the action stunts, the leading man was injured on the set, forcing a lengthy shut down. Will this derail its momentum? Well, generally January is the “multiplex graveyard” where franchise flicks come to die. So what is the experiment I mentioned? Well, I’ve not seen the two previous films in this series, so we’ll see if I can jump in cold. Most film fans believe that reading the novel a film is based on, should not be required for an adaptation. The same is said with film series or franchises. Is it necessary to see all the Marvel Studios movies before seeing next month’s BLACK PANTHER? Shouldn’t be, it should stand on its own. You could say the same for Bond (and that’s over 20 films). All right, time for me to jump off the diving board, into the dark, unseen pool that is MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s sometime in the not so distant future (maybe around the corner from Fury Road). Roaring out of the desert comes a beat-up jeep/dune buggy hybrid driven by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). They (part of a rebel group called the Gladers) are trying to intercept a train (owned by the evil corporation WCKD) that’s carrying kids (teens and pre-teens) that are immune to the disease that wiped out most of Earth, the ‘Flare’, a plague similar to the ‘Rage’ from 28 DAYS LATER that turns folks into rapid-running maniac killers (think WORLD WAR Z), though the infected have brief moments of calm when they can converse. WCKD’s gonna’ experiment on these captured kids in order to find a cure. Of course the two are outnumbered, until two more Gladers arrive in the nick of time (a repeated plot device). It’s the adult Vince (Barry Pepper) and twenty-something Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who hopes to rescue his buddy Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the train. Alas, after a furious fight, Minoh is not in the boxcar they separate from the train. Returning to the Glade HQ camp, they decide to send a small group to the fortress city on a rescue mission. After a near fatal encounter with a cave full of “Cranks” ( the infected, not the family from the holiday movie classic), they finally arrive outside the city where desperate mobs hope to get past the machine gun drones and tower cannons. A former friend/ foe they thought was dead, Gally (Will Pouter), takes Thomas and his crew to the underground kingpin, the Flare-ravaged Lawrence (Walton Goggins), who offers help by way of a secret passage into the gleaming city. There they make their way to the imposing tower that is the home of WCKD. Inside Minho is a guinea pig in the lab headed by Ava Paige (Patrick Clarkson) who is assisted by former Glader (and I’m guessing former paramour of Thomas), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). Does Thomas and his band of Gladers stand a chance against the WCKD forces headed by enforcer/ hitman Janson (Aidan Gillen)? And what will happen when he sees Teresa once more? The fate of the planet seems to rest on the young man’s shoulders.
Whew, with all the narrow escapes this flick feels like one of those Golden Age movie serials. with all fifteen of its chapters smushed into one feature. But not in a good way, like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The actors are almost like chess pieces, being moved from one action sequence-square to the next. As for the cast newcomers (those still passing for teens), O’Brien is a competent leading man, all earnest determination. He’s not given much of a chance to reconnect with Scodelario’s Teresa, though she ably conveys the character’s torment over switching sides (I’m guessing that happened in the previous entry). Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Glader Newt has a nice tragic arc as he realizes that the Flare may consume him before they finish the mission. Salazar has an appealing “tough chick” vibe as the no-nonsense Brenda who doesn’t hesitate when facing any danger. Poulter, coming off his very, very bad cop role in DETROIT, continues to impress as the “wild card’ ally who may have other motives. All for the screen vets, Esposito and Pepper are regulated to adult mentors/ cheerleaders. Saddled with some constricting make-up (Lon Chaney’s Eric meets the Red Skull), Goggins seems muzzled as the big boss of the under, underworld. Clarkson is all cool menace as the passive aggressive Paige, a power-mad mean, mean mama. The only actor that seems to be having a bit of fun is Gillen as the cackling, unrelenting killer king (if he had a mustache I’m sure he’d be twirling it as he boasts about terminating Thomas).
At a rump-numbing 142 minutes, this flick from director Wes Ball (who helmed the previous two) feels as though it’s an attempt to tie up the many loose ends, while satisfying the novel’s fans. Since Ball is an effects artists, all the scenes of the glistening metropolis are impressive. Unfortunately the characters are no more than action figures in a super-deluxe play set. They run down endless corridors (enough for several Aaron Sorkin TV shows), nearly running into clumps of bad guys who shoot as well as the stormtroopers in the middle Star Wars trilogy (lousy). In the next scene they’re defying gravity with stunts that fans wouldn’t buy in a Superman movie (a bus and helicopter, take a guess). And like many action blockbusters, we get countless endings, until things mercifully grind to a halt, and the whole thing lands with a big thud. As I mentioned at the start, this is my first exposure to this series. And I can safely say MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE will certainly be the last.
1/2 Out of 5