The Maze Runner: The Death Cure not only wraps up a deeply mediocre trilogy of dystopic teen moodiness, but draws the whole cinematic trend and subgenre to a close at long last. It started with The Hunger Games, a genuinely solid movie that expanded into an increasingly dull franchise, but nonetheless made a fortune by tapping into teenage moodiness and fantasies of toppling a cruel society run by adults who just don’t understand. A wave of imitators followed, each less successful than the last. Some franchises perished in their cradle, ending after the first chapter (Ender’s Game). Others died a slower death after several attempts at blockbuster success (Divergent). But not Maze Runner. Through sheer force of will and middling box office success, Fox kept this irritating franchise alive to the trilogy’s bitter end. None of the movies were particularly good, and the finale ends on more of a whimper than anything resembling a bang or a celebration. By the time this seemingly endless two-hour-and–twenty-minute mediocrity finally rolls the end credits, it’s hard to feel anything other than relief: at least we won’t have to see any more Maze Runners or movies of their ilk for a while.
So for those of you who aren’t familiar with the novels or who can’t tell these franchises apart, Maze Runner is the one where a post-apocalyptic society forces teens through a bizarre maze filled with challenges and death traps. Why? It’s something to do with a zombie-esque epidemic that took over the world and left the few remaining uninfected adults either living in a fortress-like ivory tower city or scavenging to survive on the Mad Max-ish fringes. Like all YA dystopia franchises, the first book spawned a decent action flick that thereafter led to sequels covering a slow burn revolution where a bunch of moody teens dressed entirely in black act like revolutionaries/terrorists to take down a corrupt society once and for all.
In this case, our hero is a boring teen played by Dylan O’Brian, who is distinguishable from the other characters only by his ability to lead groups of angry teenagers and make girls swoon. In the last movie his kinda, sorta girlfriend (Kaya Scodelario) betrayed everyone and kidnapped O’Brian’s best bud (Hi Hong Lee) to subject him to torturous medical tests in the hopes that he’d somehow hold the cure to the zombie-style epidemic destroying the world. O’Brian and his gang of buddies didn’t take kindly to that. So the movie is essentially a big ol’ heist picture to bust out Lee and hopefully bring down the whole evil adult society in the process. Loyalties will be made between former enemies. Teens will feel feelings extra super hard. Stuff will blow up. People will die. And we’ll finally find out what make O’Brian the requisite “chosen one” in this universe. Yay, I guess?
As you may have already gathered from that downright irritating plot description, Maze Runner: The Death Race brings nothing new to any of the subgenres it mixes together. Watching the climatic threequel unfold is one big long $100 million act of going through the motions. There are absolutely no surprises, especially any plot twist that is supposed to shock or awe. The spectacle is never as exciting as it is supposed to be. None of the characters are particularly memorable (or in the case of the gang of teen revolutionaries, even distinguishable from one another). None of the emotional arcs register. Nothing really works. It just kind of limps across the screen like an marathon runner who was injured so early in the race that there was no chance of winning, yet who is determined to cross the finish line nonetheless.
Yet, perhaps the most frustrating element of this threequel and the entire Maze Runner series as a whole is that it isn’t disastrously bad, just mediocre, boring, and redundant. Aside from the wooden protagonists, the young cast does the best that they can with the material given, while the veteran character actors (Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Giancarlo Esposito, etc.) finish off their three-picture deals with as much class as possible. Effects artist turned director Wes Ball at least attempts to elevate the material and even delivers a handful of action set pieces that are well done. The trouble is that it’s impossible to get invested in the action, mythology, or characters because nothing about the source material feels genuine or pressing. This series is a copy of a copy, following genre tropes like a dreary routine and adding absolutely nothing to what’s come before. This whole dumb franchise was a waste of time and talent. No one ever particularly cared about the material. Not the people who made it and certainly not the audiences who politely tolerated it. When the final scenes unfold, we should get a sense of satisfaction and catharsis. Instead, all we can truly feel is relief. Relief that this series and genre are finally over for a while and we can all move on with our lives.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!
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