Kernel Rating (out of 5): (2.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. Similar to its predecessors, this finale of the “Maze Runner” trilogy has a ton of violence: there is a deadly virus that has infected countless people and turned them into zombie-like creatures; dozens of people die during a major fight sequence; lots of one-on-one violence, during shootouts, assassinations, and knife fights; some explosions; some action sequences with speeding trains and in midair; and a kind of gross-out character who is missing part of his face. Also a few kisses; a variety of cursing; some rude jokes; and a core story in which practically all adults are bad guys.
The ‘Maze Runner’ trilogy concludes with ‘The Death Cure,’ which goes through many of the same motions as the first film and preceding sequel ‘The Scorch Trials.’ The action sequences are often thrilling, but almost everything else is forgettable.
By Roxana Hadadi
The teens-living-in-dystopias cinematic trend finally feels like its reaching its end with “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” the final installment of the trilogy that began in 2014 with “The Maze Runner,” continued with the sequel “The Scorch Trials” in 2015, and took a year-long break from filming when star Dylan O’Brien was seriously injured during filming. After a lengthy recovery process, O’Brien throws himself into the movie, working as an effectively physically imposing, often sarcastically funny hero, but so much of what happens in “Death Cure” is generic at best and listless at worst. Still, that’s in line with the previous “Maze Runner” films—at least the series is consistent!
The general plot here is that something called the Flare Virus has ravaged the world, infecting countless people and turning them into zombie-like creatures called Cranks (whom the teens led by O’Brien’s character Thomas faced off against in “The Scorch Trials”). But some teenagers, including Thomas, are immune to Flare, which has made them the targets of WCKD—World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department—a corporation employing a group of adult scientists who are working on a virus for Flare and who have been capturing, trapping, and testing the teens. Sometimes the teens suffer from amnesia, but more often than not, they’re killed, inspiring the survivors to work toward destroying WCKD entirely.
In this fraught atmosphere, “Death Cure” begins with something thrilling: an attempt at a train heist, where Thomas and his friends try to break into a moving locomotive and save their friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), who was previously taken by WCKD. But when they realize he’s not actually on the train and has instead been moved to a tower inside the walled-off and heavily defended Last City, they have to actually plan a break-in and an escape, a different change of pace from the frenetic, spontaneous action of the first two films. Can Thomas and his friends pull it off? Even when one of their own, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), has changed sides, deciding that the mission of WCKD is one she supports more than her onetime friends?
The first couple of “Maze Runner” films had some emotional explorations—the anxiety, fear, and loneliness of the teens trapped in the maze in the first film; the romantic tension between Thomas, Theresa, and the only other female character of note, Brenda (Rose Salazar) in the second film—but mostly relied on twisty-turny sci-fi and a healthy amount of unexplained plot twists and character motivations. But “Death Cure” leans too much in the other direction, overly explaining the universe and answering more questions than were needed to wrap this whole thing up. An especially frustrating component of that is how the film rearranges Thomas as a sort of extra-special savior character instead of a teenager driven into action by his own trauma and care for his friends; there’s a cheapening aspect to the film’s support of teamwork and camaraderie by making him unique in a way his friends aren’t.
Nevertheless, there are enjoyable elements here. Although the motivations of WCKD are somewhat understandable (putting aside their horrendous tactics, isn’t creating a cure for millions of people a noble thing to work for?), Aiden Gillen and Patricia Clarkson really lean into their icy villain roles, providing nice counterpoints to O’Brien’s casual youth. And the action sequences are consistently exciting, beginning with that train attack and continuing into a massive midair sequence. It’s all the stuff in between those set pieces, though, that seems to drag on longer than it should, making “Death Cure” a series finale that matches what was done before instead of elevating it.
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