“The Death Cure,” the delayed final installment to the popular “The Maze Runner” trilogy, premiered in theaters Thursday, January 25. Reuniting a familiar cast backed by a familiar team into a new-but-somehow-familiar dystopian setting, “The Death Cure” serves up plenty of action and familiar themes. However, it ultimately disappoints viewers with too many questions, improbabilities, deus-ex-machina resolutions, and an anti-climatic climax.
Wes Ball returns as director, and he continues to provide a high-energy realization of T.S. Nowlin’s screenplay. Also returning is Dylan O’Brien of course, and he injured himself early during filming which caused over a year’s delay in the film’s production.
In that extra year, not only have fans of the original 2009 book matured beyond the peak Young Adult demographic, but also the Dystopian Future Fever — during which time franchises like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” made household names of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Shailene Woodley — has subsided.
Furthermore, the escapist thrill of watching a distant apocalyptic struggle is less amusing when one can merely turn on the news and see raging wildfires, strangling mudslides, or a government bent on destroying itself from the inside. Santa Barbara residents need not spend ten dollars, not to mention two hours and twenty-three minutes, watching “The Death Cure” for its surgical-face-masked characters when they have already lived through the Thomas Fire.
In the series’ first film, we meet a group of teenage boys (“Gladers,” in the local parlance) whose memories have been swiped struggling to escape from a deadly labyrinth filled with monstrous “Grievers.” In the sequel, “The Scorch Trials,” the surviving “Gladers” find themselves in a catastrophic world outside the maze where the disease, “the Flare,” has killed thousands and turned thousands more into “Cranks” — or zombies.
In the final installment, the “Gladers” now must break into “The Last City” — which turns out to be yet another maze — and find a cure for “the Flare.” While it would not be fair to spell out the cure, it should be noted that — after all the machinations, struggles, and intrigue of surviving the maze, battling “cranks,” traveling hundreds of miles, losing numerous friends, and fighting a tyrannical and literally “WCKD” organization — the solution was disappointingly within reach from the very beginning.
And while filmmakers gave plenty of attention to special effects, set design, and makeup, they skimped on character development, and they offered only a perfunctory love triangle added emotionlessly into the storyline as though by assignment. The actors’ performance of the affectionate, complicated connection between the three main characters, Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda, is unconvincing.
Whether to blame Ball, Dashner, or Nowlin for the unfulfilling finale is up for debate. However, the final film took more liberties from James Dashner’s source material than the first two.
UCSB students, who may fondly remember having read “The Maze Runner” trilogy in elementary or early junior high school, are sure to have varying degrees of affection for Ball’s big screen adaptation.
Fans already invested in the first two movies will surely see it — and not all will be disappointed — but the movie is unlikely to convince moviegoers, who are unfamiliar with “Maze Runner,” to race out and pick up Dashner’s almost ten-year-old novels.