The Death Cure




When it comes to adapting popular YA dystopian fiction to the screen, THE HUNGER GAMES succeeded admirably.  Not so the DIVERGENT series that began robustly but soon fizzled out to insignificance.  Now comes the third and final movie installment of James Dashner’s novels with MAZE RUNNER : THE DEATH CURE and it is fated to join Divergent in yet another example of the law of diminishing returns in cinematic form.


The first film in  2014 had an interesting premise.  With no memory of how any of them got there, a group of young people were trapped in the Glade, a large enclosed meadow surrounded by a futuristic labyrinth in the form of a maze peopled with peril and monsters.  Foremost among them was Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) a born leader and challenger of authority who along with a select band of followers was determined to escape their confinement.  The film’s punch line revealed that they were ‘ immuners’, rare humans who were impervious to a global epidemic ravaging the planet and known as the Flare.  A sinister corporation known by the acronym of WCKD had been using them in a laboratory rat sense to find a cure for the disease.  


The follow up in 2015, MAZE RUNNER : SCORCH TRIALS saw Thomas and his intrepid band battling across the crumbling cities of a devastated planet while fighting off hordes of Flare-ravaged zombies.


So to the finale and Thomas and his ex-gladers must somehow break into what is known as ‘The Last City’, a hi-tech walled metropolis controlled by WCKD and free Minho (Ki Hong Lee) one of their party being systematically destroyed by WCKD’s scientists in their endeavors to locate a cure.  Thomas also wants some answers (don’t we all) to the many mysteries surrounding their journey and to find a plague cure himself . Very elitist are those WCKD upper echelon bosses, as they want a cure solely for their own members, while the altruistic Thomas dreams of finding such a remedy for all surviving mankind.


Also in The Last City is Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), an ex-glade immuner herself who has thrown in her lot with the organization’s power brokers, Ava (Patricia Clarkson) and Janson (Aiden Gillen).  As Teresa is Thomas’ ex-inamorata, this adds some piquancy to the situation.  


There are pluses aplenty here, but not without corresponding downsides.  Director Wes Ball who has helmed all three of the movies has a strong sense of space and energy and can stage some pretty impressive set pieces.  The opening sequence that runs for around ten minutes involves a vehicle / train chase across rough terrain and is executed with hints of the mastery used in similar sequences in MAD MAX : FURY ROAD where the sound design is artfully used to create an immersive experience.  But is placing a film’s most compelling action piece in the movie’s introduction a crucial error?  Returning writer T.S Nowlin’s script is only just serviceable and does subject the viewer to extended stretches of overly explanatory narrative.  The story is kind to women, giving strong female characters who play crucial roles and vary powerfully.  From Clarkson’s coldly villainous Ava, to Rosa Salazar’s earnest Brenda and Kaya Scodelario’s perfidious but conflicted Teresa.


No question – Dylan O’Brien is a charismatic lead and definitely has a screen future beyond his Maze days.  (Note how the TWILIGHT series provided a springboard for Robert Pattinson to forge a career.)  But at 145 minutes running time, this franchise-closer is way too overstretched and padded.  With a need to keep the film safely within the PG 13 rating, most of the chases, gunfights and battles, while basically providing the raison d’etre for the film’s existence and being skillfully mounted, are relatively de-fanged and consequently mild in their visual effect.  Despite some talented players and a production budget of $62 million it is mainly, to steal from the Bard, an exercise full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

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