Are you still a maze runner when you don’t have a maze anymore?
Perhaps Thomas ponders this conundrum in his quieter moments, rare tho’ they may be. Perhaps he wonders whether he’s simply a runner these days. A wilderness runner, perhaps. Or an angsty teen dystopian runner. Or a hopping-on-train-in-hopes-of-rescuing-the-kids-inside runner. Not that labels mean a lot to him, given his present predicament. Not much time for them. He may not have a maze to run, but he’s still running for his life. And running for the lives of others.
The world still teeters on the brink of annihilation. A terrible disease, known as the Flare, is ripping through humanity like a cheese grater, turning men and women into crazed, zombie-like things with a yen for murder. A couple of movies ago, the World in Catastrophe: Killzone experiment Department (or WCKD), had the bright idea of rounding up any kid who might be immune to the disease and running them through lethal mazes in the hope that, by studying their brains, humanity might find a cure.
That led mostly to a bunch of dead kids, unspeakable trauma and no workable antidote. But give the scientists props for dogged determination: They’re still experimenting, still trying to find a little hope somewhere in the Immunes’ bodily fluids. Why, a young scientist named Teresa—Thomas’ old girlfriend—believes in the cause so fervently that she betrayed him and their collective pals to further the experimental cause. She and her fellow scientists are still laboring away in humanity’s last city, walled off from both the disease and the teeming masses who would really, really like to get in.
Thomas and his associates don’t buy into WCKD’s whole “let’s torture kids in the hopes of finding a cure” ethos. They’re now all about rescuing Immunes before they land in WCKD’s nefarious lab, with an eye especially toward saving Minho, Thomas’ good friend from their (relatively) innocent maze-running days. When Thomas learns that Minho is in the clutches of WCKD—locked away beyond the walls of the last city—he decides he must try to rescue his pal, no matter the risks, no matter the cost. Newt and Frypan, Thomas’ longtime companions, decide to go along, too. It’s not like they have Netflix to watch or Call of Duty to play: What else are they going to do with their time?
“We started this together,” Newt says. “Might as well end that way, too.”
Still, getting into the city is no small feat. The wall is strong and thick, manned by masked marksman and armed with seriously lethal rockets. And even if Thomas and his buds find a way through the walls, they somehow have to breech the security of WCKD’s primary headquarters, which is bristling with cameras and guards and supervised by their archnemesis, Janson. The place is reputed to be a massive complex of corridors and laboratories—almost maze-like, you might say.
Yep, Thomas and his friends should feel right at home. But instead of trying to get out of a maze, this time they’re trying to get into one. And they might need help from some surprising quarters before they’re done.
The threat of planetary annihilation might make many of us consider extreme measures, and so it is with WCKD. Sure, their methods are questionable. But the people who are associated with it, from Teresa to head WCKD scientist Ava Paige, are pursuing a course they believe to be the right, ethical one: Better to sacrifice a few to save many, they believe. “We’ve sacrificed a lot to get this far,” Teresa tells a group of financiers, encouraging them to keep the program open. “Please, don’t let these sacrifices be for nothing.” It’s an argument the scientists believe in¬ fiercely—even if it’s an argument that Thomas believes with equal passion to be morally flawed.
Thomas’ own moral filter has a much more narrow focus: He wants to rescue Minho and, if possible, others locked in WCKD’s clutches. WCKD’s justifications don’t hold much merit for him: Bad is bad, even when done with good intentions. And while the movie encourages us to side with Thomas, it also stresses that Teresa’s take has some weight, too. I like that Maze Runner: The Death Cure asks its audiences to wrestle with this ethical conundrum.
Throughout the film, we see characters risk their lives, and sometimes sacrifice them, for worthwhile goals.
[Spoiler Warning] But while Thomas’ immediate life-saving goals are fairly narrow, he’s not blind to the broader picture, either. When told that his blood just might hold the secret to curing the Flare, he walks back into the lion’s den that is WCKD headquarters in the hopes that he might save humanity.
Characters hatch a desperate plan in the sanctuary of an old church: We see stained glass windows in the background, and a painting of Mary and Jesus in the foreground. Someone who gets infected with the Flare says he holds on by saying the names of the people who are important to him, “like a prayer.”
Thomas and Teresa kiss.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure is, in its later stages, essentially a war movie. We see very little of the grotesque cyborg monsters so familiar in the first movie, and even the zombie-like victims of the Flare are put on the back-burner (though they still have some notable scenes). In return, The Death Cure gives us frenetic street battles, massive explosions and lots and lots of shooting.
Not every shooting victim gets pumped full of bullets: Some high-tech weapons fire disabling but, presumably, nonlethal electrical charges, which leave them jerking on the ground before succumbing to unconsciousness. (An electric grenade does the same thing to a group of guards.) But others are indeed shot and killed, albeit mostly bloodlessly. Rockets are fired into masses of protesters, sending some flying and the rest running. In the aftermath, audiences see the dead lying in the streets from a distance. A couple of men die in an apparent suicide attack: They drive their vehicle straight into something, creating a massive explosion. Cars are thrown by explosives, too, and buildings catch on fire and sometimes collapse, taking whoever was still in/on them with them.
The zombie-like victims here (called Cranks, though it seems the word is occasionally used to reference normal folks outside WCKD’s walls, too) attack on sight. One man seems to be eaten alive by a couple of them (an attack mostly obscured by the ravenous creatures themselves). Another one attacks someone frantically with a knife: He’s killed in the ensuing tussle, the knife jutting out of his chest. Several try to overwhelm a vehicle Thomas and his friends are in—one punching the windshield and side windows in an effort to get in. The vehicle’s driver steers close to some detritus, which smashes into the thing and tears him off the vehicle, but the SUV itself crashes soon after.
Characters hit each other and sometimes have extended fights, complete with knees to the gut and attempts at strangulation. Someone is shot and killed, and we see blood slowly spread underneath her white garment. Another person is shot in the gut: When his shirt is lifted up, his bloody wound is visible. Still another combatant gets stabbed in the leg with a sharp implement. One person has her head slammed into a worktable, hard enough to daze her.
Thomas and others have tracking tags removed from the backs of their necks: The minor operation is bloody and painful, and we see clearly the gaping incision made on Thomas as someone pulls the chip from his neck. Minho is forced into a dream-like state, where he’s back in the Glade and forced to run the maze—which is filled with terrible-looking creatures—again and again.
Several people sport wounds: Sometimes they’re fresh cuts and bruises on their faces; others bear old scars from previous encounters. A bus filled with children is dropped from a seriously frightening height, but everyone seems to survive without serious injury.
A treatment for the Flare seems to be painful. “It burns!” says a little girl injected with what Teresa hopes will be a cure. Someone coughs up blood. Another person gets stabbed with a syringe full of medication designed to knock someone out.
A guy who seemed to die in a previous movie returns. “I put a spear through your chest!” Minho exclaims. “Nobody’s perfect, man,” the guy says.
For a PG-13 movie explicitly aimed at children and teens, The Death Cure spews a surprising level of profanity. One indistinct f-word may be used during the course of the film. But we definitely hear about 20 or so s-words, not to mention a few aborted attempts. An obscene gesture is flashed as well. We also hear God’s name paired with “d—n” twice, along with sporadic uses of “a–,” “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—,” “p-ssed” “d–k” and the British vulgarity “bloody.” Jesus’ name is abused twice as well.
Eva drinks some form of liquor in her luxurious flat. “Taking the edge off, I see,” Janson says, watching her drink. Scores of people, including several who are seemingly underage, knock down a toast to fallen comrades, though the type of beverage being quaffed is obscured by the tin mugs from which they drink.
When people are infected by the Flare, their transition from human to zombie is none too pretty. We see several folks slowly succumbing to the disease, marked mostly by dark, distended blood vessels pulsing underneath the skin. Black stuff tends to dribble out of their mouths, too. One man has kept the disease at bay so long (he’s tethered to an IV full of a medication that prolongs normal life) that he’s lost his nose (leaving a skull-like gap in his face), the skin on the right side of his face is bubbled and black, and worm-like things seem to be working themselves out of his hand.
The makers of Maze Runner: The Death Cure are probably happy they have a movie—or a star—at all. Dylan O’Brien, who plays the hero Thomas, was run over during the opening days of filming the movie, breaking lots of bones and necessitating a several-month delay in shooting.
I feel especially bad for O’Brien now that I’ve seen the film. If you’re going to seriously injure yourself in a movie, at least it should be a good one.
The Death Cure serves as a dissatisfying ending to an only passably serviceable franchise. The film reportedly seems to bear very little resemblance to the 2011 book of the same name. And while I haven’t read the novel, I can’t imagine an alternate reality in which this would be considered an improvement. The premise of The Maze Runner—pretty tenuous even in the beginning of the series—has lost all semblance of coherency by now. But even if you buy into that premise, the finale (which I won’t spoil) feels like a complete, weird abdication of any satisfactory conclusion—a whole lot of bluster and not much narrative payoff.
“Please, don’t let these sacrifices be for nothing,” Teresa says. The film, alas, did not listen.
You feel every single second of the movie’s two-hour, 23-minute runtime—a movie that could’ve easily coasted in at around 90-100 minutes. C’mon, people, cut some stuff. This is a Maze Runner movie, not Lord of the Rings.
Especially worth cutting: The movie’s small landslide of bad words—wholly gratuitous and, in a film explicitly marketed toward kids, utterly unwarranted. The violence, while perhaps not so gratuitous, can be pretty jarring, too. Indeed, sometimes the flick can feel a little like a horror movie.
The Death Cure is not without merit: It offers plenty of heroism and may encourage some deeper conversations about morally ambiguous issues after the credits roll. But boy, you do have to wade through a lot of stuff to get to those credits.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.