“They’re late,” are the first words spoke in The Death Cure, the final film in The Maze Runner trilogy. They are rather appropriate, considering the fact that the film is finally hitting cinemas in the UK this weekend, after production was held up for a year following an on-set accident that seriously injured star Dylan O’Brien. Sadly, the delay not only injured O’Brien, but also stopped the momentum that the series had gathered, with audiences not used to waiting for three years for a conclusion to a group of films when the first two had been issued only one year apart. The gap in production is obvious in some ways – O’Brien and some other members of the cast don’t look just six months older (as the film requires) but several years older, but such minor issues are forgotten after a few minutes and you get used to the difference. The final film has received very good reviews, and with good reason. Despite this, it is not the best in the series. To my mind, the first installment wins that prize for managing to combine a sense of mystery, intrigue and action/adventure, and all of that in a lean running time of under two hours. The Death Cure is more in line with the second movie, The Scorch Trials, concentrating on action sequences and, despite being nearly two and a half hours in length, no-one could complain that they were bored while the series reaches its explosive climax.
The Maze Runner, despite its production problems, might not be the most recognisable name in the cycle of films based on young adult dystopian novels, but it is arguably the best. The Hunger Games has received more attention, but that series also seemed to have an air of self-importance that The Maze Runner does not. The Maze Runner is there to entertain first and foremost, whereas The Hunger Games, for example, is almost a call to arms. And I’m certainly not complaining about a series of movies or books that are trying to tell youngsters that people in power are not to be trusted and will screw you over in order to better themselves. The earlier kids recognise that, the better. But Hunger Games also seems sanctimonious about it, not helped by the lead character. The same message is perhaps hidden away somewhere in The Maze Runner but it’s not what drives the narrative, and Thomas’s motives are not to bring down the establishment, but to save his own friends. That he may or may not bring down the establishment whilst doing that is a simply a bonus for him, and this is clear throughout the final film. Whereas the second ends with the decision to bring down WCKD, the third is still centred around rescuing his mate rather than getting too wrapped up in the bigger picture. Thomas is a flawed character, and his decisions aren’t always the best ones, but that makes him more believable that Katniss in Hunger Games.
The final film is a fitting finale, even if there are some moments towards the end where the action sequences just seem to go on for too long, no matter how big and loud and impressive they may be. This series has always been more than being about big bangs. But, again, there is no intention to be grandiose here – no desire to drag this adaptation of a single book over two full-length films. That decision brought Hunger Games to a rather leaden, dull conclusion, whereas Divergent didn’t ever reach a conclusion at all, with the final movies having been shelved after the series ran out of steam and cinema tickets. The Death Cure also rather unexpectedly manages to reunite viewers with characters from the first film that never got seen at all in the second.
When this cycle of youth adult films has left the cinemas and is looked back upon in five or ten years, The Maze Runner will, in all likelihood, be viewed as the most accomplished – and some reviewers are already saying that. This is all the more remarkable given that these three movies were the first features directed by Wes Ball. The casting was, in most cases, superb. Dylan O’Brien managed to take the lead role and not allow it to dominate the films – despite his presence in most scenes, this is still an ensemble piece, allowing others to shine as and when required. Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, in particular, is superb, as is Will Poulter who rejoins the films in the third episode. Despite this, Aiden Gillen seem to be on autopilot as the bad guy, with his motives never really explained, other than he has a job to do and he does as he’s told. This is perhaps a flaw in the script, but there seems to make no attempt to add any depth here unlike, for example, Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige, the head of WCKD, who is as morally ambiguous as Teresa (played by Kaya Scodelario), a trait that adds to the list of elements that separates these from similar films. It will, as always in these cases, be interesting to see what the talented young cast that headed these movies, and director Wes Ball do next.