The third and final film in the “Maze Runner” series, subtitled “The Death Cure,” gets it half right as an action movie. The stunts, the explosions and the chases are all exciting and elaborately mounted; there’s just not much of a movie to go with them.
When it was announced that last chapter of the on-screen “Divergent” saga was going straight to live on a farm upstate — or, rather, directly to television — it seemed like we’d heard the last gasp of the once ubiquitous, now exhausted YA genre. But no, here comes “The Death Cure” to pound the final nail in the coffin of teenage chosen ones fighting zombies in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Goodbye, and good riddance.
“The Death Cure” provides no exposition or title cards up front to bring you up to speed if you missed the previous chapters or if, like me, you saw them but can scarcely remember the slightest detail about them, apart from a maze and some running. Nonetheless, we’re plunged right into the first of several splashy stunts, wherein a plucky band of rebels hijack a train, capture a futuristic fighter plane and liberate several dozen pre-adolescents.
That this entire operation involves the train, the plane and various feckless bad-guy soldiers winding up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time is the least of the film’s concerns. The one detail that Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his cohorts miss is getting the train car that contains their friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”); realizing his mistake, Thomas wants to try another rescue mission, even though it will take him and his friends into the heart of “the last city,” a walled stronghold controlled by the wicked WCKD corporation, which has been attempting to use all of these untainted teens to wipe out the virus that’s turned most of the planet into half-dead bloodsuckers.
For those who have been paying attention and have any emotional investment, “The Death Cure” brings back some surprise characters, offers redemption to some (if not all) of the villains and winds up with an emotional coda that pays tribute to the brothers- and sisters-in-arms lost along the way. And we know it’s emotional because the score by John Paesano (“The Star”) keeps whipping us in the face with tear-jerking semaphore flags.
For everyone else, there’s the action, and it’s here where “The Death Cure” makes its strongest case for existence. There are cranes and buses and explosions and shoot-outs and hand-to-hand battles and invasions and demolitions, and they’re all delivered with a verve that is otherwise missing.
Director Wes Ball’s entire feature output has been these “Maze Runner” movies, and he definitely seems to have been learning on the job. He (and a no doubt very talented second unit) teams with editors Paul Harb (“The Expendables 3”) and Dan Zimmerman (“The Dark Tower”) and a top-flight visual effects crew to jolt the movie back to life every 15 or 20 minutes with another thrilling sequence.
In between, alas, T.S. Nowlin (“Phoenix Forgotten”), adapting James Dashner’s novel, mostly goes through the YA motions. The plot is so by-the-numbers and the dialogue so forgettable that the talented cast of character actors – including Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Esposito, series newcomer Walton Goggins, and one more who can’t be mentioned since it’s a spoiler – seem to be mainly biding their time until a more interesting and possibly less lucrative project comes along.
As for O’Brien and co-star Kaya Scodelario, they’ve been reduced to beautiful blanks over the course of this entire series. If it turns out that they have a post-YA resurgence along the lines of what Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have achieved since “Twilight,” more power to them.
The world of “Maze Runner” was never particularly unique or interesting. The best thing that “The Death Cure” does is blow it up spectacularly.