I must have done some terrible things in a past life to have been currently incarnated as a film critic in the era of tween lit adaptation franchises. There’s really no redeeming aspect of this phenomenon, and I sincerely hope that the trend is finally abating with the last installment of the Maze Runner series, The Death Cure. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I haven’t seen the two films that preceded this one, but having seen more YA adaptations than I can remember at this point, I don’t think that my lack of awareness of the storylines at play here hurt my ability to evaluate this particular film. What did hurt my ability to evaluate it was the constant shaky cam and overblown sound design, but I digress.
The Death Cure is effectively the cinematic equivalent of a birthday cake made entirely out of icing — when you strip away all of the substance in favor of the flashy toppings, you’re bound to feel a little sick by the end. This movie is just a collection of action set pieces strung together by the faintest semblance of a narrative. Maybe the filmmakers did so much masterful characterization in the first two films that they were laboring under the mistaken assumption that they could coast by on their earlier work for 2 1/2 hours this time around, but I strongly suspect that’s not the case. Regardless, there’s nothing here from a story perspective to recommend this film unless you’re already invested in the plot from the previous installments — which, we’ve established, I am not.
So is there anything to recommend this one to the casual observer? Potentially, but not without some serious caveats. Even with its abusive running time, Death Cure isn’t boring per se, and it bears the benefit of being all climax, therefore avoiding the challenge of having to set up a successive film. This time around, the mysteries of a group of amnesiac teens relegated to lab rat status by a shadowy government agency in a plague-ridden postapocalyptic dystopia have largely been resolved, leaving only the inevitable stick-it-to-the-man conclusions to play out. And those conclusions are almost exclusively of the “blow stuff up real good” variety, with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and crew assaulting a walled city to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the clutches of WCKD — tellingly pronounced “wicked” — where he’s being tortured by Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen. Pretty standard boilerplate stuff, only marginally enlivened by a cavalcade of B-list supporting actors including Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito and a totally wasted Walton Goggins.
If there’s a reason for The Death Cure to exist, it can only be the necessity of wrapping up a franchise that most people had already forgotten about. Is that reason enough to warrant a watch? Not in my book, but then again, I’m not the target demographic for this sort of thing. Maybe the kindest words I can offer on this one would be to applaud Wes Ball’s temerity in helming a YA franchise from start to finish — though that’s something of a dubious distinction, I can also state categorically that I’ve seen worse. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Co-ed of Brevard.