Review – Running on Empty (“The Maze Runner: The Death Cure”)

Bye-bye Katniss, so long Tris, hasta la vista Jonas, and a bon voyage to Thomas, the leader & hero of the 2014 Maze Runner band of brothers. Well, our “Gladers” managed to get past that goofy maze, avoid the 2015 Scorch Trails of WCKD, but doggone it, they STILL have problems!

Jumping right into a Fast ‘n’ Furious meets Mad Max beginning, we find that a group of “Right Arm” rebel kids attacking a train. Why? Looks like Thomas’ buddy,  Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is among the captives inside being sent to WCKD City and by God, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) will NOT let his friend be captured under any circumstances. But after things go very south, Thomas is faced with either leaving the burned-out desert with his other Right Arm compatriots and going off to an idyllic paradise OR go on suicide mission to save one dumb kid and probably get killed. Guess what he decides. Yeah. Stupid decision.

Risking his life, he’s joined by friends Newt and Frypan (Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Dexter Darden) who go off half-cocked and are almost eaten by Cranks (fast moving zombies). Luckily, they’re saved by gung-ho Brenda and father-figure Jorge (Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito). So Dorothy and the rest take off for Emerald City and. . . sorry, I mean, Thomas and the others take off for the walled-up, gleaming, and techno-savvy WCKD City, BUT first they must get through the slum-riddled Last City, the last bastian of civilization with people barely eeking out an existence.

Unbelievably, they are captured by a resistance leader that turns out to be Gally (Will Poulter), a Glader from the first movie, whose eyebrows are still a threat to mankind. But while Thomas negotiates getting into WCKD HQ with Gally, we find out that Theresa the traitor (Kaya Scodelario) has almost found a cure to The Flare, that disease that turns people into Cranks. This is great news to WCKD director Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), but not-so-great news to evil Janson (Aiden Gillen), who just wants to kill everybody. Problem is, all those captured immune kids don’t have the right kind of blood to do the trick. Gee. . .I wonder who DOES have the magic blood they’re looking for?

Well, faster than you can say, “Have fun stormin’ the castle”, Gally gets Thomas and his buddies into the Blade Runner-like city for a ridiculous plan: try and find Teresa, get Minho out of the super-security facility he’s being held in, and then get everyone out  undetected. Ha! What could possibly go wrong?! As you can imagine, everything. It wouldn’t be a Maze Runner movie without a whole lotta running, and brother, there’s a whole bunch of that going on here with captures, escapes, more captures, more escapes, etc. Thankfully, this movie ENDS the series instead of being split into two films, which was originally planned.

As with the prior two films, the same ol’, same ol’ creative team is at the helm: screenwriter T.S. Nowlin adapted James Dashner’s YA novels, but with massive plot holes, countless deus ex machinas to make you LOL, and lazy YA dialogue that you’d expect in these cookie-cutter YA dystopian sci-fi movies. The only redeeming quality in all this hokieness and downright stupidity is Wes Ball’s direction. For all it’s sheer nonsense, the man knows how to shoot a movie. He really needs a decent, better crafted script to match his prowess with the camera.

You gotta hand it to the actors, who really put their heart and souls into this silliness. Dylan O’Brien has the looks and acting chops to be in better films, along with Brodie-Sangster, who is especially good. Also giving a great show is Salazar who runs circles around Scodelario, who just sleepwalks through this. Sure, there are brief moments of fun with the YA and their antics, but let’s face it, these movies about ugly dystopian futures with teens have all but dried out. Personally, I’m glad they’re over.  

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

When last we saw our plucky band of rag-tag dystopian teens, they had just escaped the inescapable Maze and found out their whole world was merely a test for a sequel. Figures, right? They go through unimaginable heartache and pain, death at every turn, and NOW they gotta do it all again? Geez, Louise! What’s up with that?
Those who escaped the Maze from 2014’s movie are back and very confused. And rightfully so. After being told (via video) by some weird company called W.C.K.D. that the Earth was scorched by a solar flare and left almost everyone dead or affected by a pandemic virus called The Flare, THEY were immune to the virus! Surprise! AND their whole Maze running and escaping experience was simply a test to see if they were worthy to go on to Phase Two. What’s Phase Two? Glad you asked!

Flown to a massive outpost in the desert, Maze leader Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his buddies, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores) are shuffled inside away from the Cranks (think fast zombies from 28 Days or World War Z) and find other teens from other mazes. The facility leader, Mr. Jansen (Aiden Gillen), tells of an idyllic life for them, but you KNOW all is not happiness and popsicles as they’re led to believe.
One kid, Aris Jones (Jacob Lofland), discovers they’re being harvested by WCKD’s sinister leader Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson), who wants to find a cure for the Flare virus at any cost. Thomas and his gang flee the place (running and escaping) and take off to find “The Right Arm”, a resistance group hiding in the mountains. (more running and escaping). But first they encounter Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), Brenda (Rosa Salazar), and their outlaw fugitive gang who’ll take them to The Right Arm, but WCKD finds them first(more running and escaping!)

After even MORE running and escaping from Cranks, WCKD, and a devilish peddler in flesh named Marcus (Alan Tudyk), Jorge, Brenda, and our Maze heroes finally find The Right Arm’s location and Vince (Barry Pepper), their leader. This armed group are planning on striking that big ‘ol facility we saw in the beginning and freeing all the kids, but oh no! One of our heroes (I won’t say who) turns Judas and betrays the others, as WCKD shows up and ruins the day. Yes, more running and escaping ensues.

But just as the bad guys leave with their cargo filled with immune people, Thomas, Vince, and some of his escaped friends vow on settling the score by going back and killing Paige and freeing the others. That means you gotta wait for The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, which won’t be out until 2017…  AND there’s talk of that movie being split in two parts! Egads! (Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen! Thank God!)

T.S. Nowlin, who’s writing/adapting all of James Dashner’s popular YA books into movies, really likes the catch-phrases, “Go! Go! Go!” and “Run! Run! Run!”, as it’s spoken SO often by everyone it should be a drinking game. Seriously, it’s used ALOT! Plus, there’s is SO much aforementioned ‘running and escaping’ it becomes a (pardon the pun) running joke after a while. Did Nowlin really need to pad-out the screenplay that much? It’s an exciting story that is reminiscent of the CW’s The 100 and NBC’s Revolution, but really, you could have shaved off a good 35 minutes without all that tiresome running and escaping.

On the other hand, newbie director Wes Ball is damn good for a novice, never shying away from trying something new and shows real promise for a fledgling. Seeing his work on screen, you’d never know this is only his second major motion picture he’s ever made. Ball is also shooting part three as well. Bravo! The teens are all genuine here, given all the freakin’ running and escaping they gotta do, it’s just a shame they aren’t given anything more meaty in dialogue to handle. The scenes are played out very fast to build tension, but our heroes are never given time to show any real emotion or depth of character, like in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which stopped to focus on Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s feelings.


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