Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Sarah Ward

The final chapter in the dystopian youth saga can't patch over its weary nature with impressive spectacle.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Image: the cast of The Death Cure, The Maze Runner.

With The Death Cure, The Maze Runner finally escapes its own labyrinth, and in more ways than one. Though the franchise’s motley crew of outbreak survivors have long found their way out of the walled-in glade they were once forced to call home, they’ve still been caught in a trap ever since – first navigating the sinister inner workings of the corporation that engineered their containment in The Scorch Trials, and now trying to break into the company’s headquarters to save a captured friend. As they’ve chased their tails in their quest for freedom, the series they’re in has similarly struggled to find its own direction. While James Dashner’s five-volume tomes have provided the films’ templates, the Maze Runner saga has always been treading in the footsteps of its dystopian Young Adult page-to-screen predecessors.

Accordingly, adapting the third book in the series proper – with two prequels also part of the printed tale – The Death Cure comes with a sense of exhaustion. The feature’s protagonist’s aren’t the only ones tired of running in circles; as directed by franchise helmer Wes Ball and written by fellow returnee T.S. Nowlin, the film may favour an action onslaught of heists and chases this time around, but its weariness is as evident as its formula. Given the movie’s once-popular, now-waning genre, that’s understandable. While comparable fare couldn’t fly into cinemas fast enough just years ago at the heights of The Hunger Games’ success, they’ve since proven a case of diminishing returns. Where The Death Cure rushes (in tone rather than timing, with the last instalment released in 2015), many others have tried and underwhelmed before. 

As once again guided by the spirited Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, American Assassin), the feature’s central rebels are intent on causing the downfall of the all-controlling WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Department). First, however, they have to free pal Minho (Ki Hong Lee, TV’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) from their clutches. From a jailbreak on a speeding train, to infiltrating the last disease-free city, to slipping into the corporation’s base undetected, the gang goes about their mission while still attempting to evade the hungering zombies they call cranks. The loyal Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Godless) and Frypan (Dexter Darden, Making Moves) follow Thomas’ every move, with allies Brenda (Rosa Salazar, Big Mouth) and Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito, Okja) on hand to help. 

Within The Last City, government doctor Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson, The Party) and ruthless operative Janson (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones) endeavour to thwart the interlopers, as the story charts every expected path. Thomas and company’s former friend Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) wavers between her old pals and new employers, in an attempt to add further narrative conflict, but what eventuates proves routine and by-the-numbers at best. That charge has always haunted the Maze Runner films; however, the first managed to counter it with mystery and intrigue, something subsequent outings haven’t been able to muster. If the series’ second effort felt like a placeholder for more to come, The Death Cure concludes the saga with little more than a box-ticking exercise.

Proficient at crafting a spectacle even when it’s not garnering any sense of investment, Ball checks off his list with the assistance of undead hordes and ample action. Thanks to his past in visual effects and graphics, the result is a film that gleams with the right look – and with a number of well-staged set pieces – but fades whenever it dwells upon any details. And, one that labours due to its 142-minute length, extending even its impressive special effects-driven sequences past their natural end point, and positively grating when it comes to characterisation and logic. It’s little wonder the cast seem as though they’re going through the motions; bursts of energetic clashes, robberies, fights and escapes can’t sustain a struggling movie, or anyone’s attention.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Director: Wes Ball

US, 2017, 142 mins

Release date: January 18

Distributor: Fox

Rated: M

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay