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      Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

      Maze Runner: The Death Cure poster

      Maze Runner: The Death Cure

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" opens with a misleadingly snappy train robbery sequence involving the theft of an entire train car. The components of director Wes Ball's overture are many: off-road buggies at high speed, orphans in chains, tons of CGI of better-than-usual quality. Most importantly it has Giancarlo Esposito, as Jorge, the father figure of the resistance, saying the line that must be said in every YA franchise when the hellhounds are on the kids' trail: "You got company!"

      The franchise has plenty of company too. Begun in 2014 with "The Maze Runner," nice and compact, continuing a year later with the saggy middle feature, "The Scorch Trials," the film versions of author James Dashner's dystopian hellhole best-sellers exist alongside "The Hunger Games," the "Divergent" movies and several others that have already fallen by the post-apocalyptic wayside. That wayside is littered with blood-stained henley T's and chaste yet smoldering looks between prettily suffering cast members.

      Here's where we are with this crew. Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, valiantly trying to humanize a martyr-saint-hero) and his mates have survived the maze running conducted in the place known as The Glade. The Glade is overseen by the totalitarian-ish governmental body called WCKD. Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen, both of whom seem to be smiling in untrustworthy ways even when they're not smiling, slink around as the authority figures searching for a cure to the global pandemic. This cure, we learn, has something to do with the blood of the uninfected maze survivors.

      In the second movie, there was a lot of running in the desert and Esposito and Barry Pepper as the good adults in the kids' crummy dystopian lives. "The Death Cure" is better than "The Scorch Trials," and though both those titles sound like reality series on a particularly harsh food network, director Ball manages to give his finale a sense of sweep and spaciousness.

      A lot of the picture -- too much -- concerns the rescue of Thomas' pal and comrade Minho (Ki Hong Lee) from the experimental torture wing of WCKD headquarters. The skyscraper towers behind the newly walled-off burg known as The Last City. Eyeing the wall, Esposito mutters: "I guess that's WCKD's answer to everything," taking a poke at our current president's dream project.

      Thomas remains torn between two women: turncoat resistance fighter Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), now working on a plague cure for WCKD, and tough-as-nails Brenda (Rosa Salazar, consistently the most forceful presence). Thomas and company once again contend with mechanized spiders as well as zombie-like hordes known as Cranks.

      Ball and his screenwriter T.S. Nowlin parcel out their sparsely plotted narrative carefully. They see their job, I suspect, as maintaining a proper tone of seriousness while delivering a crazy amount of fireballs. The script is just so-so, but Ball's directorial eye, clear in the first "Maze Runner" film though largely AWOL in the second, saves the third and final adventure from its own bloat. There's no earthly reason "The Death Cure" should run 142 minutes. But each supporting character receives her/his proper sendoff, and among the film's many endings you can pick the one you like.

      MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and some thematic elements).

      Running time: 2:22.

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