The Maze Runner series stands among a vast litany of young adult-themed novels and films that, at passing glance, all look and sound the same. Teenagers fighting in an arena, teenagers escaping a maze, teenagers fighting dystopian mega-corporate diabolical madmen… it all blends together.
But what sets the Maze Runner movies apart is that Wes Ball’s direction is always top-notch, the movies are visually arresting, and they have some pretty fantastic action sequences hidden behind the young adult facade. The story can at times be a little rote, but the vast majority of that story is done in a unique and, at times, surprising way that sets it apart from things that have come before. The actors associated with the franchise are all either up-and-comers or well-known faces that help elevate the sometimes lesser story. Together, it all adds up to something I am personally interested in and hope to get others curious enough to give a try.
The first film, The Maze Runner, is by far the more interesting set-up of the three, both from being the very first and also because of the initial hook. Teenagers wake up outside of a maze with no memory of how they got there and must run that maze if they intend to have any hope of escape. The soon-to-be-leader of the group, Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas, helps lead them on the attempts while the shaky foundation of regular supply drops makes some fearful of leaving their little habitat. It’s a compelling set-up and leads to some really wonderful chase sequences and well-shot action.
The second film, The Scorch Trials, opens the world up and brings the remaining cast into both a sinister clinical locale and the doom-ridden desert on its outskirts. It’s a longer film, and can at times feel like it, but it has some fascinating cinematography, great action set-pieces, and has the benefit of adding on Barry Pepper, Giancarlo Esposito, and the best part of the second movie, Rosa Salazar. Her charisma and unique character help the movie considerably, and while the story ends on a pretty large cliffhanger, the overall whole is very satisfying.
The Death Cure, while late after the release of the second (and justifiably so), is a very good conclusion to the series. Weighing in at a whopping 140 minutes, the movie takes advantage of that time by having a gargantuan amount of plot and action setpieces to outdo anything that has come before. The movie opens on a daring and thrilling train robbery, shot beautifully and sweepingly. The story takes a turn toward The Last City, the final place that has not fallen to infection, and a rescue mission that has all the odds against the main players. The city is futuristic in its design but underneath is decaying, a coupling of marvelous cinematography and bustling city life (both above and below ground) that adds depth to a place that is more than just an enemy fortress. The back half of the movie is epic and absorbing, hitting points that make the production budget seem two or three times its worth. Ball creates action that few others in the film industry are striving for currently, and is a talent that can do a lot with a little.
O’Brien converts between great and struggling, though that comes down to the character sometimes being a blank slate during certain parts of the story. But he can pull off action in fantastic fashion, which definitely helps. His role is undeniably physical and demanding, and he puts his all into the moment when it calls for it. The rest of the cast is quite good, with the standout again being Salazar, despite being more a B-player in the story. But that B-plot does have some fun moments in it, regardless (including what clearly has to be a Jurassic Park gag). An actor thought long gone from the series makes a return, having become a pretty big star since the last appearance, and so that is a welcome addition that really adds something to the back half of the film.
The main drag for most would be, I assume, the massive amount of plot. Most of those stretches come from a single plot thread, where Kaya Scodelario’s character Teresa is trying to find a cure to the virus that continues to spread and its ramifications most dire. There are stretches of conversation that could become bothersome for some, perhaps even monotonous as yet another one comes up after some of the more engaging segments occur. But I didn’t find them grating or disappointing or monotonous, personally, as I was invested in what was happening, the dynamics of the characters and what was at stake. That stake, in its grand and sweeping scale, is what a small amount of lives mean to the greater good. In any other movie, the greater good would be the driving force; here, it is the opposite. But it is for a reason and does not hurt the thrust of the film or the series.
The Maze Runner series is one that may at first be dismissed as yet another young adult movie franchise, and at first glance, that can be understandable. But when you dig in and give the movies a chance, there is something special here, a different, unique take. There’s a lot of great work, in front of and behind the camera, which leads to some magic that other franchises desperately need. So while the length of the movie can be a big of a drag at times, there’s so much good here that it does not hurt the overall movie. The Death Cure is well worth your time, and a solid conclusion to the series.