In Maze Runner: The Death Cure, teenagers are once again the key to toppling an implausibly grim regime in the distant future. While the heyday of YA dystopian novel adaptations may have passed, the final installment in the Maze Runner series contains many tropes emblematic of the genre, albeit with a darker take than some of its predecessors.
After escaping from the giant stone maze of the first film and surviving the zombie-infested apocalyptic desert of the second, the remaining Gladers learn that they possess an immunity to the Flare, a virus which has whittled down humanity’s dwellings to a few scattered survivor camps and a single walled, high-tech city. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Frypan (Dexter Darden), along with allies Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), decide to break into WCKD’s headquarters in the city to rescue their fellow Glader Minho (Ki Hong Lee) after he is kidnapped in order to find a cure for the virus. However, the plan is complicated by an outside plot to overthrow the city, and the fact that Thomas’s love interest Teresa (Kaya Scoledario) works as a scientist inside the facility.
The Death Cure revels in the cinematic glory of the futuristic “Last City”, and its stark contrast with the abandoned disrepair which comprises the rest of the world. Dramatic chases and tense shootouts occur in abundance, and the talking Flare-infected zombies are particularly unnerving.
Less impressive, perhaps, is the actual logic of the plot. WCKD’s procedure for extracting a cure involves forcibly subjecting teenagers to vivid, violent hallucinations. The disaffected humans outside the walls declare their intent to claim the city’s resources as their own, yet they blast a giant hole in the concrete wall and then proceed to literally blow everything up. And while these characters may have been more developed in the previous films, in this installment they are little more than vague archetypes. Newt is inoffensive as the loyal companion, even if we aren’t reminded of why he is so tight with Thomas. Thomas and Teresa lack the chemistry to cement their love for each other in the face of their ideological differences. Meanwhile, the rest of the survivors have few memorable traits, and simply fulfill their roles in the revolution.
The Death Cure is first and foremost an exciting action film. The opening sequence is a high-speed train chase that involves airlifting an entire cargo bunk, and from there forward the dramatic sci-fi escapades continue with brief lulls of dialogue. However, the highest points of the film occur when characters dare to be emotional, and when the heroes fail. After these teenagers are given unholy amounts of responsibility and more or less succeed at their improbable plans, it is refreshing to see them falter, even if genre-savvy moviegoers will see it coming.
As the final installment in the series, The Death Cure needed to wrap up all the loose ends established in previous films, which it does in a way that feels almost too pat. Teresa makes a dramatic sacrifice to save Thomas, dying in the process, but not before the two reconcile their love for one another. The city is effectively ransacked by the outsiders, preventing an aerial pursuit force from going after the remaining survivors. Newt has left a goodbye letter in the pendant he gave to Thomas, allowing the main protagonist some closure in the loss of his best friend. Angsty lovers, improbable plans, and evil adults feature galore, which will no doubt appeal to all the disenfranchised adolescent viewers out there.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is yet another film where a few special teenagers topple an excessively iron-fisted regime. Moviegoers who are willing to overlook the gaping plot holes will find a decent, if somewhat cliched, action romp.