I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of the previous films
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
So, a bunch of kids — okay, just boys — are trapped in a mysterious Glade at the center of a massive Maze, and there are monsters in the Maze that keep them inside. Also, the Maze is constantly changing configuration. Also too, they all have amnesia so they don’t know who they are. Some of them have been there for years. Then Thomas arrives, and he is the Hero, and also handsome and brilliant, so they all escape, like, right away (but not before a Girl arrives for him to fall in love with, because what else are girls for?). That was The Maze Runner. It was like Lord of the Flies, but nicer, like a Boy Scout jamboree with only a little bit of death.
Once the escapees are outside they discover that it’s the end of the world, and not just one but many postapocalyptic landscapes lie before them. Everything is really hot and desertified, there are dead cities everywhere, and mostly everyone has turned into Crank zombies because of the Flare virus, as will inevitably happen. It’s pretty much all the other apocalypses we’ve ever seen onscreen, except maybe Ape Uprising, all in one movie. There is an evil organization — called WCKD *snort* I mean, there’s your giveaway — running the end of the world. WCKD was experimenting on the kids in the Maze because they are immune to the virus and were hoping to find a cure, which doesn’t even make any sense but OMG Thomas is so cute amirite. Also there is a resistance group, called the Right Arm. This was Maze Runner 2, The Scorch Trials. It was a Lonely Planet sort of apocalypse, backpacking into the Mad Max bazaar with your best pals.
And now here we have No 3, called The Death Cure, which sounds like a joke, like it’s the opposite of Murder by Death. (Spoiler: Death is not cured.) But it’s not a joke — everyone is very serious. This time Thomas (Dylan O’Brien: American Assassin, Deepwater Horizon) is leading a rescue mission to grab their Glade friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee: Wish Upon) from WCKD HQ, which is in the Last City. The marketing for this movie would like you think that “the legendary Last City [is] a WCKD-controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all,” but LOL, it’s not. It’s just a city. Like one you’d recognize today, but with walls to keep the Crank zombies out. It’s definitely not like the last city in the Divergent movies — which is a completely other dystopian series based on some YA novels, I swear — because that city had visible means of generating electricity and growing food for its inhabitants now that all its outside support systems have collapsed, and this one… doesn’t. Its inhabitants walk around wearing ties and high heels and riding buses and checking their smartphones and are they kidding, it’s the end of the world and civilization is dead and how do they have the resources for any of this? How did they have the resources to build the Maze? None of this makes any sense.
But Thomas! He is SO SPECIAL. He is brooding and wounded but never in any way that makes him less than dreamy, and he’s also always right and noble and upstanding. His crazy ideas that just might work naturally do. Even when people tell him that he is wrong to do a Thing — like rescue a friend because it puts everyone in danger — those people always come around to his way of thinking and show up just in the nick of time to help him. (It’s like the Right Arm is just Thomas’s backup, not the last chance best hope for humanity or anything.) Everyone loves Thomas! Thomas is so just basically AWESOME that it doesn’t matter if every plot point that isn’t a cliché is in fact a plot hole, right? You will feel like you’ve seen this movie before even while you are watching it for the first (and only) time. The opening sequence is lifted from an episode of Firefly (“The Train Job”), there’s a rescue right out of Aliens, and a big moment is borrowed from The Lord of the Rings (the movies, not the book). The same “surprising” stunt with a vehicle is pulled twice, and neither seems possible for people who have grown up in this diminished world to have pulled off. Still: Thomas! *sigh*
When the worldbuilding here isn’t borrowed, it’s lazy and implausible. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe the audience isn’t meant to be upset by this end-of-the-world. Nothing here is terribly upsetting, or moving in any way at all. This is the Auto-Tuned boy-band version of the end of everything. Before Thomas and his friends sneak into the Last City, outside in the scorched dead world, it all feels like Fury Road fan fiction enacted by enthusiastic cosplayers: so cute and funky, this apocalypse! Inside the Last City is a bit Blade Runner meets RoboCop with a dash of Gattaca, lots of neon and glass… and yet not sinister but kinda cool. It’s like a game for Thomas and his pals, gawping around in awe but also sliding right into disguising themselves as cops and sneaking past security cameras into the sleek evil medical labs like this isn’t the weirdest thing they’ve ever done. They’re like kids playing hide ’n’ seek.
They’re looking for Minho, who is being experimented on. WCKD doctors are scaring him with virtual reality while they are draining his blood to get that Flare virus cure, because the fear creates antibodies or some nonsense; this is a thing that is genuinely in the movie. This isn’t sinister either, which you’d think it would be, but it is stupid: this procedure is “not as effective as the Maze” where they left kids for years without taking any blood, so does anyone actually know anything? Maybe all the real doctors died in the apocalypse.
Anyway, the Girl from the Maze, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, Now Is Good), is here, and she’s still a villain (as we discovered before this movie opened, so not a spoiler). She’s one of the Mengeles working on a cure, but she’s cute so it’s okay, and also she feels a little bad about being a PG-13 torturer. Does that make her good? Or is she bad? Thomas has So Many Confused Feels for her. “There’s something about your blood I don’t understand,” she says, which will never be on a Valentine card. Thomas is so special that even his blood is special. And it’s still not even the cure for death. This movie lies to you from the opening credits, and then goes on to be two hours and 20 minutes of empty blah.
Generic characters who aren’t even distinct enough to be stereotypes. A pedestrian collapse of civilization that has no resonance at all even when it should. (The wall! There’s a wall here designed to keep dirty diseased hoards away from shiny happy sophisticated folk, and… nah. It feels like nothing.) Bland flattened emotion that barely rises above the level of “Go on without me!”/“I ain’t leavin’ you, man!” There’s a chain of these exchanges, as one person who refuses to leave is the next to tell someone else to just save himself. It would be hilarious if this wasn’t happening at the point at which you’re restraining yourself from shouting at the screen, “JUST BE OVER ALREADY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!”
Eventually, it does end. But not before you are broken.