Sunday, June 23, 2024

‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ Is As Bad As It Sounds

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I’ve never seen a Maze Runner movie before. After seeing Maze Runner: The Death Cure I understand why I haven’t. What I don’t understand is why anyone would see this movie.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is easily one of the worst titles I’ve heard in years. It’s right up there with Highlander 2: The Quickening or F.A.R.T. The Movie. Although I feel as if I’m being too harsh on F.A.R.T. The Movie. It has a candidness lacking in other movie titles.

The movie is the last in a trilogy based on a series of YA novels by James Dashner. If you’re a fan of the Maze Runner series then I’m sure you will like this one—I think. I don’t know. Maybe the movies that came before it were actually pretty decent. If they were then I’m sorry to say this latest one is markedly a step down. 

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is the super special boy with the gift/knowledge/power/whatever. Only he can save the world that now finds itself in the throes of an apocalypse. Or maybe it’s supposed to be post-apocalypse. Is there a term for a story that’s taking place mid-apocalypse?

From what I could gather, there’s a plague that’s turning people into ‘cranks’. Cranks are the YA version of zombies. Dr. Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) are trying against all odds to find a cure for the plague. If the plague is still going on, wouldn’t this be classified as just apocalyptic? Or is it called post-apocalyptic because the majority of mass deaths has already occurred and we are seeing the tale end?

Anyways Ava and Teresa work for a an evil corporation known as WCKD. WCKD is harvesting kids and teens who are immune to the plague to try and develop an antibody. I recognize the evil corporation is called WCKD  as a clever way for us to know the corporation is evil. Except in movies like these the corporations are always evil regardless of their name. Also, there is no way a company called WCKD has a good day of trading on the stock exchange.

Thomas decides to break into WCKD to rescue his friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee). His friends Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) decide to come along and help. After being joined by Brenda (Rosa Salazar) and Jorge (Gincarlo Esposito) the quintet discover WCKD is now the center of a large walled off city.

This city, by the way, has a rail system, public transportation, a complete infrastructure network, wifi, and (I could be wrong) coffee shops. This is hands down one of the better apocalyptic cities I’ve ever seen on film. Throughout the movie I was less concerned with Thomas and his failed attempts to rescue Minho than I was wondering how this city functioned.

The script, written by T.S. Nowlin, has Thomas rescue group after group of captured kids. Each time he gets depressed or upset when Minho isn’t among the rescued. It almost becomes a running gag with our hero unintentionally saving dozens of people and somehow not saving the one person he wants to.

To be fair to the script, to do that it would require a better character than Thomas and a better actor than O’Brien. Maybe it’s not fair to the actor, but here O’Brien fails to register anything outside enraged anguish between long moments of glassy eyed stares. I don’t blame O’Brien entirely—Thomas is a character only by the broadest definitions of the word. He has no real moral compass or guiding principle.

More to the point, Thomas is told his blood could cure the plague and save humanity. None of the ‘heroes’ in the Maze Runner seem interested in saving anybody but themselves. Thomas, if not for a series of egregiously convoluted events, could be argued to be the actual villain of the piece. A man with the ability to save us all but refuses to and instead runs off with a select few to live happily on an island. But his narrative is saved by the complex idiotic plot machinations that involve a mob led by half-crank half-man Lawrence (Walter Goggins) wanting to destroy the city. Thomas must now flee just to survive. I should also mention Jansen (Aidan Gillen), whose entire motivation is to be so evil and untrustworthy so Thomas can’t trust anybody…thereby saving him from ‘villain’  status.

Teresa is actually an interesting character. The movie implies that she and Thomas were once a couple. Now she works for WCKD, harvesting and testing kids in search of the cure. She is sure of her choice, but soon becomes conflicted. Unfortunately Scodelario is forced to work with the same script as O’Brien, and so consequently is left adrift to look either pensive or awestruck by bland Thomas.

Wes Ball, the director, tries hard to distract us from the banality and cookie cutter cliches that litter Maze Runner: The Death Cure. He drops us immediately into the action with a train robbery involving the theft of an entire train car. It’s no Paddington 2 in terms of train chases but I don’t think it’s trying to be. More’s the pity.

Ball does a splendid job of peppering the movie with loud and noisome action set pieces. I’m not being sarcastic either. They are hardly entertaining or riveting but they are well done. We’re always aware of where characters are in relation to each other. Ball and his cinematographer Gyula Pados have a keen understanding of knowing how and when to give us the wide shot and when to cut away to a close up.

Had I been invested in anything happening, the action scenes would have been riveting. But even in these well-done action scenes the movie stumbles predictably. I realize the target audience for Maze Runner: The Death Cure are die hard fans. Though why a studio movie would limit its potential market base is beyond me.

I’m willing to bet the fans of the Maze Runner movies and books are not stupid. Yet, the movie treats them as if they are. Brenda escapes the WCKD complex with a busload of kids only to find herself surrounded. Frypan operates a construction crane, drops the hook right in front of Brenda. Now, what are the odds of Brenda hooking that chain to the grate of the bus? What are the odds of that bus being lifted to safety? And what, dear reader, are the odds of the grate coming perilously close to ripping off?

Even if you had never seen an action movie before the music would cue you in. Maze Runner: The Death Cure is plagued with a score that is approximately three seconds ahead of the movie. The music builds to a crescendo moments before the climax telegraphing what is about to happen. 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a cinematic embodiment of boredom. It says nothing and in the end is about nothing. It’s much too long and never as entertaining or smart as it thinks it is.  Maze Runner: The Death Cure, never has the decency to be good schlock either. It’s neither schlock nor dreck but the limbo between the two: meh. Maze Runner fans deserve a better movie. I’m not so sure Maze Runner: The Death Cure deserves its fans.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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