Grade: B+
Entire family: No
2018, 141 min., Color
Sci-fi action adventure
20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

What you want to know is this: How does Maze Runner: The Death Cure stack up against the previous two installments, and how does The Maze Runner film trilogy compare with The Hunger Games and Divergent—the other popular dystopian series based on young adult novels?

Our family thought that all three Maze Runner films were comparable in quality—ranging from a B+ to an A, depending on your age (teens leaning higher). In terms of production design and plot, this series may rely a little more on familiar post-apocalyptic tropes than the others, but it’s just as well done—again, comparable. The characters are engaging, the production design is strong, and the action, though it covers familiar ground, is unique in its details.

With Maze Runner: The Death Cure, director Wes Ball brings his film adaptation of the popular James Dasher young adult novels to a close, but if you’re going to understand anything that’s going on, you really need to have seen the first two films—the second, especially. The three installments function like a three-act screenplay, with the first film the set-up, the second the acceleration of plot, and the third a push toward resolution. 

Because The Maze Runner (2014) feels like a near stand-alone mystery-thriller and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) and Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) play out like connected action-thrillers, it’s impossible to understand anything that’s going on in the third installment if you haven’t seen the second. If you didn’t catch (or can’t remember) the first, the only thing you’ll miss in The Death Cure is a big reveal when a character thought dead turns up again. Everything else can be gleaned from the narrative and dialogue.

In the first film, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) woke up in a large contained area called The Glade. At first he had no idea who or where he was, but then gradually he remembered and he and the others—young teens all about the same age who, shades of Lord of the Flies, had to learn to function as a micro-society—pieced together clues in order to try to escape. The main young characters that continued through all three films are Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and Frypan (Dexter Darden); the adult carryover is Dr. Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), a driving force behind an organization with the Bond-like acronym WCKD, a class-based group that seeks to safely separate itself from the rest of the post-apocalyptic rabble and use its resources to find a cure for The Flare Virus.

The second and third installments are really just one continuous action plot that could have been broken up any number of ways. Thomas and the others are relocated to another area where they are assured that it’s merely a waystation along a highway to a better life. Really, they’ve been isolated in a Phase 2 experiment because it’s suspected that they are somehow immune to the virus that turns the afflicted into zombies (yep, here’s where it gets a little familiar). WCKD is aggressively “farming” their blood, their essence, in order to conduct experiments to create a vaccine. It’s clear, though, that the group’s motivation isn’t to save all mankind, but only an elite segment.

Enter a revolutionary force called The Right Arm and a rag-tag rabble that comes together, put these kids in the middle, and you have a classic story of a bunch of revolutionaries who try to bring down a despotic ruler. Or, given the walled city that WCK rebuilds while the rest of humanity lives an existence that’s only steps up from the infected “cranks,” you’ve got the typical siege drama that could have played out just as interestingly in Game of Thrones.

In fact, GOT enthusiasts will enjoy watching Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger, in that popular HBO series) ham it up as the head of security and “enforcer” for WCKD, whose job it is to keep rounding up young ones for immunity “tests” and to keep the revolutionaries and rabble at bay. Barry Pepper (as Vince) and Giancarlo Esposito (Jorge) also add color as adult liberators of WCKD teen lab rats, while Rosa Salazar is well cast as the revolutionary Brenda, whose very appearance completes/competes the romantic-but-not-really triangle of the series.

I’m told that fans of the book series didn’t care much for the last two films, but our family didn’t have that burden of watching after reading. We thought the trilogy was entertaining and well edited, with terrific special effects (watch on Blu-ray!), crisp pacing and action that keeps you on that clichéd edge of your seat. Yes, you’ll find yourself having flashbacks to the kitchen raptor scene in Jurassic Park and scenes from Star Wars and any number of other action films, but the variations here are neither homage nor blatant rip-off. They’re just established sci-fi action tropes that, despite their lack of originality, still work well.

Language: Under a dozen lesser swearwords, with “shit” and “bitch” most prominent
Sex: n/a
Violence: Lots of gunfire, explosions, flesh-eating zombies, people killed and wounded, but moderate level of blood and gore
Adult situations: Teens are drugged (clinically and recreationally), main characters are killed, and the entire film is one big peril
Takeaway: Don’t always believe what you hear; the last two installments of The Maze Runner are just as good as the first