Of the many young adult dystopian novel adaptations that appeared in the wake of the success of ‘The Hunger Games’, Wes Ball’s 2014 film ‘The Maze Runner’ was one of the more promising. Based on James Dashner’s novel, it offered an exciting premise that felt like something new, and while the characters were almost entirely male, the characters were well-drawn and it played them off each other in a manner akin to ‘Lord of the Flies’, with Ball demonstrated a keen eye for storytelling an action. The follow-up, ‘The Scorch Trials’, followed the first film with a stumble, starting strong but opening up into a bit of a mess, and even Ball’s still impressive eye couldn’t get around how derivative the film was. And now we come to the end with ‘The Death Cure’ - the final part of the trilogy, and while it still isn’t as strong as the first, it does bring the series home with a strong, often thrilling finale.
With Minho (Ki Hong Lee, TV's ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’) in the hands of WYKD and being drained of his blood to help find a cure to the Flare, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, ‘American Assassin’) and his friends plan to break into WYKD headquarters in the fortress of the Last City and get him out before resistance fighters bring the place to the ground. It’s a simple narrative thread, but it’s a damn string one, giving the film a drive and spine that the second film lacked. Each major set piece follows smoothly from one to the next, and even at two and a half hours, the film feels like it’s rocketing towards its conclusion. The many characters and ideas of the series mostly come together in this final chapter, where allegiances are tested, truths are revealed, and the question of whether the life of one is worth the life of another is pushed to the brink. Where ‘The Scorch Trials’ meandered and felt messy, ‘The Death Cure’ is clear, crisp and often unforgiving, and while the narrative inevitably falls into some annoying clichés, the craft of the film mostly avoids them.
The charisma of the cast goes a long way to keeping it all together. O’Brien really digs into the damage and dilemma in Thomas, and similarly to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss (if not as elegantly constructed), the PTSD and exhaustion of what he asks of him weighs heavily on him. Kaya Scodelario (‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales') gets her first real chance to properly dig into Theresa’s motivations, making her one of the most interesting characters, while Thomas Brodie-Sangster ('Nowhere Boy') as Newt continues to be the heart and reason in the film. Returning cast members like Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito and Barry Pepper hold strong, while Patricia Clarkson (‘The Party’) still feels underused, and Aiden Gillen (TV's ‘Game of Thrones’) falls into way too many obvious "bad guy" character traps.
The real star of the film - as with the previous ones - is Wes Ball, with this series charting his development as a filmmaker. The scale of ‘The Death Cure’ is enormous, both in terms of its visual demands and breakneck narrative, and he handles it all with tremendous skill. Many of the action sequences are spectacularly staged, and having been given the chance to direct the entire trilogy, his confidence, knowledge and care for the series allows him to bring it home with an assured hand. T.S. Nowlin’s screenplay isn’t anything special, but unlike ‘The Scorch Trials’, much of the film relies on dramatic action, and Ball and the cast are skilled enough to overcome most of the screenplay’s shortcomings. It also just looks tremendous, with well-executed special effects and slick production design.
Now complete, 'The Maze Runner' series doesn’t hold a candle to 'The Hunger Games', but it’s great entertainment in its own right, and while many of those dystopian series have fallen by the wayside like the 'Divergent' series, this one held its hand (even with significant production problems) and was able to get to its ending. I really enjoyed ‘The Death Cure’ - I enjoyed its breakneck speed, its thrilling action, how it treated characters I’ve watched grow over three films, and how it brought it all together with a crashing finale. For a series that promised big-scale, easily digestible entertainment, it’s a damn good place to have finished off.
The many characters and ideas of the series mostly come together in this final chapter, where allegiances are tested, truths are revealed, and the question of whether the life of one is worth the life of another is pushed to the brink.
PICTURE & SOUND
This is my first-ever 4K UHD review for SWITCH, hopefully the first of many. This is very exciting, but also a new format for me to be exploring, to bear with me while I find my rhythm with breaking this kind of image down for review.
‘The Death Cure’ looks tremendous in the UHD format, with a 2160p HEVC / H.265 encoded 2.39:1 transfer, with the original 3.4K source upscaled to 4K UHD (I know there were some sequences shot for IMAX, but the aspect ratio on disc remains consistent). The clarity and detail are terrific across the board, but its the colours that really stand out thanks to the High Dynamic Range, giving what could have been a cold and steely film a lot of life and texture. Though there did occasionally seem to be some shudders during a few panning moments in the film, the image looks consistently stable. As there was no Blu-ray copy included, I’m not able to compare it to the 1080p version, but comparing it to the 1080p transfer for ‘The Scorch Trials’, this is a significantly stronger image. The Dolby Atmos 7.1 track is a real corker, a thunderous piece of work that beautifully balances everything while giving the film a significant bass kick. It was a noticeably richer audio experience than the other films, and I imagine the Atmos is partly responsible. Overall, I can’t imagine this film looking or sounding better.
The only extra included on the 4K UHD disc is an audio commentary by Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin and producer Joe Hartwick Jr. All other special features would be found on the Blu-ray disc included, which unfortunately wasn’t available to review with this set. Those extras would include:
▸ Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary by Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin, and Joe Hartwick Jr
▸ Four Featurettes: The Final Run" , "Dystopia", "Allies Reunited", "A Look Back", "Going Out on Top”
▸ Gag Reel
▸ Visual Effects with Optional Commentary
▸ Audio Commentary by Wes Ball, T.S. Nowlin and Joe Hartwick Jr