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edge staff writer


‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ limps to the finish

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It seems as though Hollywood’s recent fascination with adapting dystopian young adult fiction for the big screen is finally petering out. Despite the monster success of “The Hunger Games,” most of the follow-ups have fallen apart along the way (a la “Divergent”) or never really gotten off the ground in the first place (“I Am Number Four;” “The 5th Wave;” “The Mortal Instruments;” etc.).

And in the middle, we find the “Maze Runner” trilogy.

Had you forgotten that it was a thing? I had, but here we are with “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” the third and final film in the trilogy based on the novels by James Dashner. As you might imagine, the series doesn’t exactly sprint to the finish; instead, it strolls through a meandering storyline with little genuine urgency or meaningful characterization before wandering through a slapdash conclusion and turning out the lights when it leaves.

Our Very Special Hero (or VSH) is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, “American Assassin”) is still Very Special, immune to the “Flare” virus that is turning humanity into what they call “Cranks” because you can’t call EVERYTHING a zombie. He and his fellow immune comrades Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, TV’s “Godless”) and Frypan (Dexter Darden, TV’s “Making Moves”) are trying to rescue their buddy Minho (Ki Hong Lee, “Wish Upon”) from the hilariously on-the-nose-named WCKD, the corporation or government organization or whatever that’s been abducting and experimenting on immune children in an effort to find a cure. They are aided by rough-and-tumble rebels Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito, “Okja”) and Vince (Barry Pepper, “Bitter Harvest”), along with Jorge’s ward Brenda (Rosa Salazar, “CHIPS”).

WCKD’s efforts are led by the science-y Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson, “The Party”) and her assistant Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”), former friend/love interest of our VSH who betrayed the immune crew for reasons I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Leading WCKD security is Janson (Aidan Gillen, TV’s “Game of Thrones”), who is ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to find a cure and blah blah blah.

Anyway, Thomas and friends (ha!) track Minho to the fabled “Last City,” a WCKD stronghold which is, well, the last city. Our Very Special Hero must find a way into the city and into WCKD headquarters in an effort to rescue his friend – even if it means he’s forced to confront the girl who betrayed his love and sided with the enemy.

Look, this series was never going to be the Hunger Games. It wanted to be, but that was never going to happen. There’s something to be said for the franchise’s tenacity, though. It didn’t flop out of the gate – the first film wasn’t bad, so it didn’t go the way of the multitude of one-and-done efforts at box office success. And it didn’t collapse under its own weight like “Divergent” did, dragging itself to a sort-of ending with an utterly gutted cast, budget and distribution.

Say what you will, but “Maze Runner” finished what it started. It’s not good, but it’s complete. That’s something.

There are no surprises in this movie. Director Wes Ball – whose feature filmography consists of these three movies and nothing else – has a workmanlike air about him. This final installment is competently constructed with almost no defining characteristics. It simply … is; it’s the big-budget version of simply setting up a camera and pressing record. The action sequences are OK and the effects work is forgettable.

As for the performances, well … there are actors in this movie and they do things. O’Brien is as blandly attractive as they come. He’s got zero screen presence and less charisma; the only reason we know he’s our VSH is because everyone treats him as such. The rest of the younger cohort – Brodie-Sangster, Darden, Scodelario, Salazar, Lee – are equally dull. They aren’t bad, per se – just uninteresting.

It’s fun to watch the adults, though. You can practically hear the sigh that Patricia Clarkson obviously let out every time the director said “Cut.” It’s the film performance version of checking your watch. Gillen spends the entire movie with the same expression on his face; he looks like someone who just farted and is secretly delighted that everyone can smell it but no one knows it was him. Esposito and Pepper are actually pretty gleeful – they’re taking great joy in how dumb it all is.

“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” is an overlong mediocrity, a bloated effort to wrap up narrative threads that 99 percent of us stopped caring about a long time ago. When the highest praise you can give a trilogy is “At least they finished it,” then you probably haven’t achieved your goals. Of course, these three films are going to clear between $400 and $500 million at the box office, so Wes Ball and company probably don’t much care what I think.

At any rate, it’s time to stop running.

[1.5 out of 5]


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