Are you weary of postapocalyptic wastelands wandered by bands of zombies? Scientists conducting evil experiments in walled cities? Fresh-faced, ordinary-seeming kids who turn out to be very special? If not, I have a 142-minute movie for you.
Let's get real, though: The final film in the Maze Runner trilogy wasn't made for snooty critics. It was made for fans who grew up with the franchise, based on James Dashner's popular YA novels, and for action junkies seeking refuge from the January doldrums in a movie theater. There's a good chance both those groups will be satisfied.
Wes Ball, who directed all three movies, has a knack for making his CGI-rich action sequences clear and comprehensible. If you don't mind the near-total absence of originality, The Death Cure is an OK ride, with a likable, multiethnic cast.
The gimmick that made the first movie stand out from other dystopian franchises is long gone; don't expect to see any maze running. That first installment revealed that protagonist Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his friends were essentially lab rats, being used by sinister scientists to seek a cure for a world-devastating virus.
In the second film, The Scorch Trials, our heroes ventured into the aforementioned wasteland and collected sundry sidekicks. Now they're determined to save a friend (Ki Hong Lee) who's again serving as a guinea pig. Complicating the mission, Thomas' love interest (Kaya Scodelario) has defected to the side of the scientists, who go by the non-subtle acronym WCKD.
Since both the teen heroes and their WCKD nemeses (led by Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen) appear to have a vested interest in curing the virus and saving the world, it's not always clear why negotiation is off the table. T.S. Nowlin's screenplay isn't big on motivations or characterization.
Despite starting the film at cross-purposes, the two leads offer exactly zero personality. At least some of Thomas' friends, such as Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster of Love Actually, who looks like a Dickensian orphan) and kick-ass Brenda (Rosa Salazar), bring more quirk and charisma to the table. When ace character actor Walton Goggins shows up as a deformed, virus-ridden resistance leader, you may hope he'll get something cool, twisted or devious to do. You'll hope in vain.
The film doesn't give non-franchise fans much reason to care who wins, but it sure does deliver the action set pieces. From the opening attack on a moving train to the climactic infiltration of the walled city — which just keeps going and going — there's plenty to keep pulses pounding. Salazar even gets to star in her own mini version of Speed, helming a shuttlebus full of kids on a high-octane urban chase. This is no Mad Max: Fury Road, but anyone jonesing for a new Fast & Furious movie could do worse.
A little warning about that "going and going" thing, though: Any viewer who isn't already invested in the Maze Runner mythology and characters, and who might be tempted to dismiss the whole thing as a bloodless version of "The Walking Dead" or a cheap rip on 28 Days Later, is likely to find the film's last third interminable.
This being a franchise ender, each doomed character must have a respectful send-off. The elegiac epilogue, which involves stirring campfire speeches, feels like it lasts an entire summer at camp. Kudos to this series for not fizzling out on the second round, like its cousin Divergent, but did the Maze Runner really have to take such a long victory lap?