If the reason that 2014's The Maze Runner worked was because of the solid atmosphere of mystery that it established by raising questions it knew it didn't need to answer (being the inaugural installment of a young-adult franchise), then 2015's The Scorch Trials and now The Death Cure have done a bang-up job of undermining many of its promises. The fact of the matter is that the premise of this series doesn't make much sense: The organization positioned as the malevolent entity is the World Catastrophe Killzone Department, a name that is certainly a jumble of words and whose acronym (WCKD) is pronounced as if there are an "i" and "e" in there somewhere. Anyway, a virus is threatening the remaining population of the planet, and WCKD's goal is to find a cure.
No, you are not reading that last sentence incorrectly. Indeed, the "heroes" in this scenario are a gaggle of former test subjects who are trying to put an end to WCKD's plan of aggressively saving the world. The problem, of course (and it's a legitimate one, to be fair), is that WCKD is trying to save the world by experimenting on the few dozen citizens who have an immunity to that virus, even if it results in the death of the test subjects. Surely, there would be a more prudent course, if not for the fact that humans are very quickly falling victim to the virus. WCKD's method of finding a cure straddles the line of ethical medical practice, but the adage about desperate times come to mind.
So, yes, despite the moral quandaries here, it is a bit odd that the screenplay (once again written by T.S. Nowlin and adapted from the novel by James Dashner) colors the main antagonists with such broad strokes that each of them comes to resemble cartoon characters. One imagines an alternate universe in which Nowlin and director Wes Ball (also on his third go-round with the franchise) acknowledge the obvious, if only theoretical complexity in even the "evil" characters here. Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), the leader of WCKD, wants to save humanity, and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the supposed "turncoat" who betrayed her fellow maze-dwellers in the last movie, believes in what Paige is trying to do.
The film is better than the previous paragraphs suggest, if only because Ball is adept at staging and executing action sequences that are genuinely terrific. The opening set piece, which imparts crucial information with little dialogue in the midst of a high-speed Jeep/train chase sequence, is superb. The set-up is appreciably simple: Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), our hero, is trying to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee), another maze survivor, from certain death (in order to save everyone else) at the hands of WCKD. To that end, he employs the talents of Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Brenda (Rosa Salazar), Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), and the thought-dead Gally (Will Poulter) to infiltrate the last-known city on earth when the train heist fails.
Of course, one gets the usual interruptions of intended interpersonal drama, most notably a love triangle (because what adaptation of a series aimed at young adults doesn't need one of those?) and the mostly inconsequential involvement of a resistance leader (played by Walton Goggins) whose face has been disfigured by the virus. The film is at its most proficient when its characters are bodies in motion, but The Death Cure cannot reconcile the muddled hero/villain dynamic that has plagued the very core of this franchise.
Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Rosa Salazar (Brenda), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Giancarlo Esposito (Jorge), Will Poulter (Gally), Aiden Gillen (Janson), Patricia Clarkson (Paige), Barry Pepper (Vince), Ki Hong Lee (Minho), Nathalie Emmanuel (Harriet), Katherine McNamara (Sonya), Jacob Lofland (Aris).
Directed by Wes Ball and written by T.S. Nowlin.
Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence/action, language, thematic elements).
Released on January 26, 2018.