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Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

Third Time's a Harm

Over the last decade, Hollywood's obsession with Young Adult movie adaptations has resulted in its fair share of quality films and absolute disasters. For every critical success like "The Hunger Games," there's at least one total dud like "The Mortal Instruments." And sitting somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum, rests The Maze Runner franchise. Based on the books written by James Dashner, the series has already hit the screen twice before. Now with "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," the trilogy comes to an end, resulting in an exciting conclusion that improves upon the previous entry, even if it can't quite overcome some of the franchise's lingering flaws.

Set in a dystopian future, the movie focuses on Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, "American Assassin"), the survivor of a dangerous maze used to experiment on the young in order to find a cure for a deadly global virus. Now free, Thomas finds himself entrenched with the resistance in a battle against the maze's creators, the appropriately named WCKD (pronounced "wicked") organization. Determined to save their captured friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the rebels devise a dangerous plan to infiltrate WCKD's headquarters. But the nefarious scientists won't give up their latest lab rat without a fight, especially since they're now closer than ever to developing a cure.    

Kicking things off with a bang, returning director Wes Ball opens the movie with an engaging chase sequence that sees our heroes launch a daring rescue mission upon a speeding train holding some of their allies. Marked with kinetic bursts of speed fueled by swooping camera angles, the scene instantly establishes a more assured and polished sense of style compared to the two preceding flicks. This expanded cinematic scope then goes on to inform the rest of the film's action, forming a series of exciting set pieces that mix some well-staged stunts with solid CG work and dynamic visuals, all while maintaining a surprisingly gritty tone.

On that note, the darker approach here almost feels at odds with some elements found in the previous instalments, making the comparatively outlandish Griever spider monsters from the first film now seem like they came from an entirely different franchise. Thankfully, however, this slightly more realistic air ends up working well, helping to create an effective dystopian setting. Likewise, the filmmakers wisely choose to flesh out the villains' motivations, muddying the waters quite a bit with an underlying "do the ends justify the means?" conundrum.

With that said, the script is still pretty generic and these thematic questions aren't delved into all that deeply. And while some level of development was bound to unfold over the course of the trilogy, the characterizations remain fairly thin and broad. The film's pace also stalls out here and there with a 142-minute runtime that feels like it could have been trimmed down a tad, and there's an overreliance on clichéd last minute rescues whenever the protagonists find themselves in peril. The first time an off-screen character shows up to save the day is all good and well, but by the third it just starts to feel redundant.

Perhaps most troubling of all, though, is the film's inability to escape the lingering plot holes established in the first two installments. The initial premise of the original movie never made all that much sense to begin with (it's never clear why an elaborate maze with spider monsters was ever really necessary), and those hoping for some sort of clever third act revelation to explain everything will be sorely disappointed. In fact, the developments here actually make the maze even more irrelevant, and considering all that's on the line, it's inconceivable that WCKD never once thought to just explain the situation to the kids, devise a more humane testing system, and then ask them to volunteer.

Of course, if you've made it this far with the series, you've probably already resigned yourself to just go with it all anyway, and despite some notable flaws, "The Death Cure" is definitely the most polished and fully realized effort in the Maze Runner trilogy. Hell, the finale's action is downright epic at times and there's even some decent emotion to back it all up. The film isn't likely to appeal much to viewers who aren't already invested in the franchise, but it offers a solid and entertaining conclusion for fans who have stuck with the series long enough to navigate through its meandering twists and occasional dead ends.

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