A fun and thrilling return, The Maze Runner series goes out with several very loud bangs. Enough teen dystopia already.
In the swarm of mediocre post-Hunger Games teen dystopias hoping to give that behemoth (itself over-bloated) a run for its box office-destroying money, I’ve always had something of a soft spot for The Maze Runner series.
The original instalment, starring a charismatic Dylan O’Brien as amnesiac Thomas, was heads above a field that included the dire Insurgent and The Giver. Deposited in Lord of the Flies-style boys’ own colony of captives similarly stripped of their memories and held inexplicably at the heart of an ever-shifting maze populated by half-mutant, half-metallic scorpion robots, it was a fun, frenetic and fresh-feeling take on a rapidly tiring model.
It also had a refreshingly diverse cast that included Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, Dexter Darden’s Frypan, Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt and, eventually, a too much testosterone-busting Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, with a strange link to Thomas’ unknown past.
The Scorch Trials expanded the world beyond the maze. Replete with Mad Max and 28 Days Later post-apocalyptic zombie tropes, it felt less original while returning director Wes Ball maintained an admirably frenetic action pace.
Adding Insurgent’s Rosa Salazar as Mad Max-style desert rat Brenda, though thankfully avoiding the temptation to go too far into a drippy love triangle with Teresa and Thomas, it also beefed up a welcome Patricia Clarkson’s role as Ava, a meddling scientist determined to find a cure for the plague slowly wiping out humanity, even if that means cutting up a few maze-raised kids in the process. In this dastardly business she had help from Game of Thrones‘ always gleefully oily Aidan Gillen as Janson, the kids’ maze-busting saviour but in actual fact WCKD hater.
Yes, silliness is inherent in all these franchises, The Hunger Games included, what with their daft trials only vaguely justified. Even in this already faulty logic, a supposedly good corporation taking on such a screamingly obviously evil acronym is ridiculous.
We’re not here for logic, however. Ball amps up the action again in the series’ conclusion, The Death Cure, improving on its predecessor with balls to the wall adventure.
Thomas, loyal Frypan, Newt and Brenda kick off proceedings with an exhilarating car versus train chase in order to save Minho from the clutches of WCKD in an expertly shot scene by cinematographer that’s made all the more pulse-pounding for the knowledge that O’Brien was brutally injured while shooting it and production halted.
From there the film takes them into the heart of WCKD territory, with Newt noting drolly that after spending all this time busting out of their maze captivity, it’s absurd they now have to break back into the fortress-like city where the last of humanity’s one per cent-ers huddle. It’s here that a turncoat Theresa now resides, manipulated by Ava into believing that the zombie flare virus cure cause is worth the cruelty, but whose side is she truly on?
It’s an interesting theme that could have stood a little more exploration, but again it’s always been Ball’s eye for visceral action that makes this a worthwhile ride, not the trio of scriptwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Meyers and T.S. Nowlin who have adapted James Dashner’s books.
Thankfully avoiding the Mockingjay cash grab model by squishing the final two novels into one, that’s probably got a lot more to do with this trend being officially over, given the failure of the Insurgent series.
A familiar plotline involving barbarians at the gate, spearheaded by a bizarrely under-utilised squid-like and noseless semi-zombie (Walton Goggins) adds to a growing list of you what nows, like the humorously unexplained return of an original film bad guy a la the Master in Doctor Who.
O’Brien, Brodie-Sangster and Scodelario counter-balance thin plotting and character work by bringing an abundance of likeability, helping lift the silliness. It’s an extremely good-looking film too, relying more on smart location work and practical stunts than over-used CGI, though there’s certainly no shortage of explosions, fiery inferno and aerial rescues. Of course there are also armies of baddies with truly terrible aim and a strange ambiguity about whether guns fire real bullets or not.
The stakes are high and not everyone’s going to make it through, but while I’ve enjoyed this ride, it’s probably for the best we’re waving goodbye.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords