If you’re anything like me, you may be struggling to remember “The Maze Runner” series and whether or not you even saw the last installment. You may also find you’d rather be watching the end of the “Divergent” series which stupidly split its final installment in half, only to question whether the second half should even be made–rather than just make it all as one movie and end things.
But I digress, since the fact that this “Maze Runner” movie is opening in late January, and will likely clean up at the box office (as much as a January movie can) because it’s only real competition is the 5-weekends old “Jumanji 2” seems like a signal that the YA dystopian movie boom may be over. So farewell to the grimmy “5th Waves” and run-of-the-mill “Divergents” and lifeless “Maze Runners” and whatever other “Hunger Games” also-rans I’ve forgotten about, because “Ready Player One” and the hoped for adaptation of the “Red Rising” trilogy just might usher in a wondrous wave of more inventive sci-fi dystopias. [The same way Hunger Games itself ended the “Twilight” knock-offs like “Beautiful Creatures” and Twilight ended the “Harry Potter” knock-offs like the “Percy Jackson” series.]
What Works: This thing is so damn long you’ll have plenty of time to mentally start preparing tax returns and also wonder why great actors like Patricia Clarkson and especially Walton Goggins (buried under ghastly prosthetics and rejected-CGI somebody might’ve fished out of the dumpster of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie) are slumming it here. To Goggins’s credit, he has no intention of sleepwalking, no matter the thankless role, and he manages to juice the material just enough whenever he’s on screen. Also, the opening action sequence is decent, and there’s enough “wham bam” shoot-em-ups in the last third, that you might not fall asleep. And it can even be said that this is an improvement over the dreary second installment…
What Doesn’t: …But doesn’t conjure the mystery the first installment did, since the end of that one shifted gears from an intriguing puzzle movie to a generic dystopian tale where teenagers have to save the day. If you sat through “Maze Runner 2” and were part of the 95% of the audience that thought “who really cares about this anymore?” then would you really want to sit through a 2-and-a-half-hour follow-up? In addition to being at least 30 minutes too long, it’s just repetitive in its ridiculousness, with too many scenes involving our heroes getting backed into a corner, only to have a Deux-Ex-Machina drone/jeep/long-dead frenemy/airplane/crane show up and save them.
Plus, a better movie would point out how similar the heroes and villains actually are. Aidan Gillen’s corporate henchman wants to decide who lives and who dies with a serum for the infected that he gets to distribute as he sees fit, but our immune heroes are unintentionally the same way by refusing to give a damn about finding a cure. In their idea of paradise, they sneak off to an island of immune while the rest of the world dies, and even when the hero finds out his blood can be made into a cure, he actually hesitates to save the rest of the planet that is not immediately his limited band of friends (after destroying a safe-haven city to rescue a single friend).
What I Would Have Done Differently: A mere acknowledgment that deciding who lives or dies based on their own genetic immunity (while denying the rest of the world a cure) is actually no different than distributing the cure at your whims would have made the movie more nuanced, more intriguing, and more adult. As is, we essentially watch the end of the world and the oblivious destruction of a safe haven city for two-and-a-half hours, held hostage by paper-thin, unknowingly unlikable characters and “dramatic stakes” that feel lightweight.