Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Giancarlo Espositio, Aidan Gillen, Ki Hong Lee, Barry Pepper, Patricia Clarkson
Runtime: 2 hrs 22 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 25 January 2018
Synopsis: In the epic finale to the Maze Runner saga, Thomas leads his group of escaped Gladers on their final and most dangerous mission yet. To save their friends, they must break into the legendary Last City, a WCKD-controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. Anyone who makes it out alive will get answers to the questions the Gladers have been asking since they first arrived in the maze.
Next to ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Maze Runner’ is probably the most successful of the numerous dystopian YA adaptations that have come in the wake of that Katniss phenomenon. Part of its success is its willingness to eschew socio-political allegory for straightforward action, and this final chapter is no different. It could dwell on issues of class injustice between those living within the city of gleaming skyscrapers and those living in the shantytowns below; or it could try to make a political statement by linking the massive, heavily fortified walls that surround the city to the current US President’s pet project; and to some extent, it does flesh out the ethical conundrum of preserving the lives of an innocent few or sacrificing them for the greater good – but first and foremost, this is a thrilling, at times even rousing, action film charged with adrenaline-pumping and heart-wrenching moments.
True to its nature, it begins with a spectacular train rescue indebted to ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. While resistance fighters Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar) distract the train drivers and their back-up air support, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and resistance leader Vince (Barry Pepper) board the train from the back and attempt to de-couple the last five carriages from the rest of the locomotive. As much as they intend to save the young prisoners on board held captive by the evil quasi-governmental agency known as WCKD (pronounced ‘wicked’), Dylan’s motivation is really his previously apprehended comrade Minho (Lee Ki Hong). Alas the latter is not among those they successfully rescue – turns out he is already at WCKD’s imposing headquarters in the middle of the walled-off burg termed ‘The Last City’, where he is subject to psychological experiments aimed at extracting a serum that would slow down a virus which turns its victims into zombies.
Those who recall the previous two chapters will remember that Thomas and his mates had escaped a monster-filled labyrinth known as The Glade, journeyed across a harsh desert wasteland called The Scorch, and had no sooner found reprieve when they were betrayed by one of their own Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). Though she was Thomas’s love interest, Teresa was ultimately convinced by WCKD’s chief scientist Ava Paige’s (Patricia Clarkson) pleadings that these tests on those who have demonstrated immunity to the virus were necessary for the sake of the greater good. Not only has she not changed her mind, Teresa now consciously ignores her inner conscience and participates with Ava in Minho’s torture – and although the story gives her the chance to redeem herself at the end, you’ll still cheer what eventually befalls her (pun intended, for those who have read the book) as just deserts.
Much of the movie revolves around the subsequent daring mission to break Minho out from within The Last City, a protracted expedition that will lead Thomas into the orbit of a gruesomely scarred leader of the infected Lawrence (Walton Goggins) as well as a former Glade frenemy Gally (a delightfully sardonic Will Poulter) earlier presumed dead. What starts off as a low-key operation descends into all-out mayhem as Lawrence himself plans a full-scale revolt which erupts into open warfare even as the WCKD’s soldiers, again led by the smarmy Janson (Aidan Gillen), try to re-capture the Immunes and apprehend Thomas and his fellow Gladers. This last hour goes from one action-packed sequence to another without catching a breath, but visual-effects-supervisor-turned-director Wes Ball stages the fireballs, street battles and close-quarter fisticuffs cum shootouts with clarity, confidence and creativity, so that as relentless as it gets, it is consistently exciting than exhausting to watch.
Including this one, Ball and his screenwriter T.S. Nowlin have shepherded the entire trilogy from print to screen and their affection for the characters is undoubtable and undimmed. Our personal sentiments for Teresa aside, Ball does a neat job setting up her motivations, complexities and uncertainties, leaving you guessing right till the end which side she will choose. He also handles Newt’s arc deftly, and without giving anything away, let’s just say book fans will be pleased by how that emotional turn of events is depicted as well as Brodie-Sangster’s heartfelt portrayal. Ball deserves credit too for extracting a suitably charismatic performance from O’Brien, which makes Thomas a much more interesting lead than the unequivocal martyr-saint-hero he is in the book. But perhaps the most memorable of the teenage characters here is Gally, thanks to Poulter’s perfectly-timed wisecracks, and Ball knows just when to employ him to break up the seriousness of the proceedings with some genuine levity.
So as clichéd as it may sound, ‘The Death Cure’ ends the ‘Maze Runner’ series on a bang – not just in terms of being a wall-to-wall explosive finale from start to finish but also by giving the characters a proper sendoff. Like we said at the start, this isn’t and doesn’t aspire to be the sort of intellectual science-fiction that ‘The Hunger Games’ is, but is in fact all the better for simply being a viscerally exhilarating picture with finely staged action and poignant (male) camaraderie. Unlike the occasionally soporific two-part conclusion of its more acclaimed genre predecessor, this one – to borrow a reference with cheek – indeed does catch fire.
(As explosive and rousing a finale as you’d expect from the ‘Maze Runner’ series, this third and final chapter goes out on a literal and figurative bang)
Review by Gabriel Chong