The Death Cure

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(L-R) Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Cranks leader Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), Frypan (Dexter Darden) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar).

Further evidence that the Maze Runner franchise has lost its way comes courtesy of The Death Cure, a third installment in the series adapted from James Dashner’s popular young-adult books.

This mildly compelling but mostly unnecessary entry resolves some of the narrative cliffhangers from its two predecessors, with the only labyrinth left to navigate being a tangle of science-fiction clichés.

Set in the near future, after a virus has wiped out most of the human population on Earth, this sequel opens with an elaborate action sequence aboard a train that will be difficult to follow for those who haven’t seen the previous film.

They’ll catch up a bit later, learning that Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) leads a group of wayward youngsters known as the Gladers who have escaped abduction from WCKD, a coalition that uses aggressive medical experimentation in a misguided effort to find a cure.

From their makeshift village in a rural wasteland, Thomas and cohorts Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Gally (Will Poulter) organize a daring effort to infiltrate the Last City, an urban metropolis controlled by WCKD in which several Gladers — including ex-flame Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), now working for the enemy — still remain.

Along the way, Thomas and friends face the ultimate test of resilience and resourcefulness. He holds the key to saving the world, just not in the way he thinks.

Like its predecessor, The Death Cure lacks the freshness of the thrilling 2014 film, although it does feel like the teenage protagonists have matured in more than just appearance. They’re still fighting for survival, but this time the fate of the world is at stake.

Returning director Wes Ball creates a stylish post-apocalyptic landscape and seamlessly blends an array of visual effects into the action set pieces, crafting the franchise’s most technically ambitious entry thus far.

Of course, the screenplay by T.S. Nowlin adds some contemporary subtext within its futuristic setting. As Glader sympathizer Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) exclaims upon seeing a giant wall around the city: “That’s WCKD’s answer for everything.”

However, whenever the action stops, the proceedings turn pretentious and heavy-handed. And the film’s videogame mentality doesn’t allow room for much meaningful depth in characters or themes.

Compared to a maze, in this case the plot is much easier to solve, even if it takes many arduous twists and turns to finally reach the end.

 

Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.