Movie Review: ‘MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE’ reaches the finish line when we thought the race was over

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE

Rated PG-13, 142 minutes.
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’BrienKi Hong LeeKaya ScodelarioThomas Brodie-SangsterDexter DardenWill PoulterRosa SalazarGiancarlo EspositoPatricia ClarksonAidan GillenBarry Pepper and Walton Goggins

If you find yourself surprised that the MAZE RUNNER series is only just now coming to a close, you probably aren’t the only one. With the last installment releasing in September of 2015 and ending on a major cliffhanger, one would think the finale should have been right around the corner. Well, that was the plan.

After the series’ lead actor, Dylan O’Brien, suffered a serious injury while filming in March of 2016, production of THE DEATH CURE was halted indefinitely until he fully recovered. Ultimately, O’Brien did return to set, but the original target release date of February 17, 2017 was pushed back by nearly a year.

Now that it’s finally out, MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE is, unfortunately, left with no choice but to fight an uphill battle for relevance every step of the way.

Picking up directly where THE SCORCH TRIALS left off, Thomas (O’Brien) and his gang of teenage rebels make a daring attempt to rescue one of their own (Ki Hong Lee) from the clutches of the aptly named evil organization, WCKD. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) has since betrayed her friends to join up with WCKD in an attempt to find a cure for the zombie-like disease known as “the Flare,” even though the company uses her generation as lab rats in the process. Thomas convinces his friends to sneak into WCKD’s last remaining city to put an end to the conflict once and for all.

At a staggering two hours and twenty-two minutes in length, THE DEATH CURE can’t help but feel overstuffed and repetitive. I counted somewhere around nine instances where a character was cornered by an enemy only to be saved by an unseen third party at the last minute. This trick may work well when used sparingly, but when used so frequently it becomes frustratingly predictable. The film also suffers from having villains whose motivation is confusing at best and nonsensical at worst. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t revisited the first two movies since 2015, but I constantly found myself asking why on earth they were doing the things that they did.

(L-R) Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Cranks leader Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

Yet the film is not without its strengths. The ensemble cast of young actors all give commendable performances and convincingly portray a group of kids that have seen far too many horrors in their time. The dynamic between Thomas and his best friend, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), is easily one of the stronger aspects as their camaraderie is genuine and believable throughout the film. The action set-pieces are hit and miss, but the opening sequence involving hijacking a train is wonderfully reminiscent of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

O’Brien’s accident clearly affected the final result of THE DEATH CURE. Half of the movie feels as though a fair amount of thought and effort was put into the cinematography and action sequences, but the other half feels disjointed and rushed. It’s almost as if the cast and crew were racing to get the movie finished regardless of how many corners they had to cut all for the sake of just getting it done already. It’s a shame that things happened the way they did, because this probably would have been a more enjoyable finale if there hadn’t been a delay.

Fans of the books will probably find plenty to enjoy here and get that much needed catharsis of bringing closure to this franchise. For those who have lost interest by now, THE DEATH CURE will do little to change your mind.

Grade: C

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE opens on Friday, Jan. 26.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.