By: Kevin Jordan
Running in circles.
With The Hunger Games series concluding more than two years ago and the Divergent series crashing and burning with its third film, the so-called Young Adult genre has all but died in the film world. That is not to say studios aren’t still trying to find the next Hunger Games, but they have become much more cautious with the amount of money they are throwing at dubious investments. In my review of Divergent, I talked about the correlation between box office draw and book sales for this genre, noting that many of the attempts at starting a franchise died after getting stuck on whatever is on the floor of a movie theater (Dave Barry dubbed it cinemuck) because studios were only paying lip service to book sales.
The Maze Runner debuted a few months after Divergent (in 2014) and, after a nearly-three year hiatus, is concluding with the third and final book of the trilogy, The Death Cure. As of early 2015, The Maze Runner series had sold more than ten million copies, so it probably sits somewhere around fifteen to twenty million total copies by now (it is much harder than you think to find book sales figures). Between that and the previous two films grossing north of $300 million each (on budgets of $34 and $61 million), 20th Century Fox could comfortably finish the trilogy, betting that the third movie will also turn a profit. That is, until they decided to open The Death Cure in January instead of September (like the last two films).
(Side note: James Dashner, author of the series, has written two prequels since concluding the trilogy, but those two books will almost definitely never see an adaptation.)
(Also, SPOILER ALERT, unless you’ve read the books.)
The hiatus I mentioned is one of the biggest problems with this film. Like others I spoke to prior to the film, none of us could remember much, if anything, about the previous film (or, as it turns out, the final book). The Death Cure begins with a train hijacking. The words you are looking for are “uh, what now?” I was completely confused by this scene because, again, I had forgotten 99% of The Scorch Trials. I remembered the main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), that a virus had infected most of humanity and turned them into zombies, and that the WCKD organization was trying to find a cure by terrorizing children, but I most definitely did not remember Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) or anyone having cars or trains. But, I remembered liking the books and being okay with the previous films, so train hijacking it is.
Thomas and friends are the hijackers, their goal being to rescue their friend, Minho (Ki Hong Lee). I really tried to enjoy this scene for the popcorn-action it was, but I have eyes and ears that were offended by the absurd contrivances and cliches that filled this scene. If you thought storm troopers and every bad guy in every episode of The A-Team were bad shots, wait ‘til you see the WCKD security troops’ lack of aim. At one point, Vince (Barry Pepper) jumps out from cover in front of several WCKD guys firing automatic rifles from about fifty feet away and isn’t so much as winged by a bullet. Meanwhile, Jorge avoids being blown up by a hover-plane that can defy gravity but doesn’t have automatic aim or guided missiles. Jorge manages to commandeer the plane, shows up at the train just as the WCKD troops are a couple dozen yards from the train and doesn’t shoot all of them to end the fight. Instead, they hook grapnels from the plane to one of the train cars and lift it into the sky with the hijacking crew dangling from the sides. And still the WCKD guys manage to hit nothing but air, probably because they were shocked that the train just happened to stop exactly where a bunch more of Thomas’ friends were hiding in anticipation of the train stopping exactly where they were hiding. I apologize for the detail here, but the entire movie plays out like that scene.
I’d like to tell you what the main plot of this film was, but I never figured it out. Minho wasn’t on the train car they stole, so Thomas decides he is going to storm WCKD’s home city (the last city still standing) to rescue Minho. Seriously, that is Thomas’ objective for the entire film. Meanwhile, WCKD is still trying to find a cure to the virus and has resorted to piping nightmares directly into Minho’s brain (while he’s still awake), hoping it will create enough midi-chlorians or something to kill the virus. I don’t know, but Minho sure looked scared.
At the city, Thomas and crew meet a guy (Walton Goggins) who is definitely infected, but who also says “I’m a businessman” when Thomas asks for help getting into the city. Based on the rest of the movie, his business is wholly composed of blowing a hole in the city wall as a suicide bomber so the rest of the infected mob can burn and pillage the city while murdering as many of its occupants as possible. All this after giving an Independence Day styled speech promising the people they can have the city instead of living outside the walls as refuse. What is happening?
Remember, everything that has happened in this trilogy is supposed to lead up to discovering the cure for the virus. Yeah, WCKD seems evil, but they are trying to save the entire human race and Thomas is actively fighting them and destroying everything in his wake in order to rescue one guy who might be the key to curing everyone. Given that scenario, it’s much harder to root for Thomas and against WCKD, but the movie makes it easy when they cast Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger) as the chief antagonist and everyone hates Littlefinger. At one point, Gillen’s character (Janson, WCKD’s chief of security – and, again, SPOILER ALERT) will shoot his colleague in the back after Thomas turns himself in and also after finding out Thomas’ blood contains the cure. In fact, Janson won’t stop shooting at Thomas for several minutes shortly thereafter. The most maddening thing of all is that death has nothing to do with the cure and the title promised us a death cure. The book actually does explain this, but I guess the screenwriter thought stealing the end of Divergent was more palatable than stealing the end of The Matrix trilogy.
Yes, I’m putting far too much thought into a movie whose writers clearly didn’t, but the shitty writing is a common theme among many of the YA films. Far too many of them end up junking the source material (which The Death Cure very much did), even though the source material is what everyone wants to see in the movie. The Death Cure was easily twenty minutes too long (at a very bloated and explosion-y 142 minutes) and somehow made most of its characters shallower in the process. I left the movie feeling disappointed because nothing is really resolved by the end and discovering the cure ended up being a MacGuffin. Mostly, I was just bored because the last film left zero impression on my memory so I didn’t care about any of these characters. But, hey, train hijacking.
Rating: Ask for all but a dollar back and hope the upcoming A Wrinkle in Time remembered what its audience is paying to see.