This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Death Cure’ Wraps Up the ‘Maze Runner’ Trilogy with High-Octane Action and Personal Battles of Class Warfare

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CREDIT: Joe Alblas/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally posted on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Aidan Gillen, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper

Director: Wes Ball

Running Time: 142 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Zombie Makeup, a Few Puncture Wounds, and Some Explosions

Release Date: January 26, 2018

Readers, I must be upfront with you: The Death Cure is the only Maze Runner movie I have seen. I was not yet on a regular reviewing beat when the first two came out, but as the trilogy comes to its conclusion, the assignment has fallen to me. Now, I suppose I could have made time to get caught up on the first two, but I often contend that viewers can watch multi-chapter entertainment properties in whatever order they feel like. The Maze Runner franchise is probably not the best choice for doing so, as it is the type of film series that doesn’t waste any time playing catch-up for newbies. But I decided to experiment a bit and see if any enjoyment could be had amidst the confusion.

The good news is that The Death Cure’s spectacle is exciting and well-crafted enough to be enjoyed devoid of context. The opening action chase sequence of vehicles barreling towards a cliff plays like a postapocalyptic cross between the opening of Fast Five and the tank chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It is not as death-defying or as instantly iconic as its predecessors, but it sets itself apart enough to not be overly derivative. Director Wes Ball’s only three feature films thus far are the Maze Runner trilogy, but he has proven himself technically capable to fill in any openings that may exist in the action genre.

As for the story, I was generally able to fill in what must have happened in the first two enough to follow along, and it is not exactly what I was expecting. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his crew are dealing with the aftereffects of a virus that has infected most of the world’s population, leaving many zombified while those who are well-off wall themselves in the Last City. Thomas is one of a few who are immune, and he could be instrumental in developing a cure, but he does not exactly agree with the methods of those dedicating themselves to finding one. There is plenty to be gleaned here about the struggle between the 99% and the 1%, and I appreciate that that point is not underlined too hard.

It is also welcome that this series (or the conclusion of it anyway) is not too beholden to the stereotypical “chosen one” YA narrative. Sure, Thomas holds the key to saving humanity, but that fact is accidental, and it does not really have anything to do with what makes him a good leader. As for a (good) quality of this genre that The Death Cure does play into, there is its surplus of quality adult actors (Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Walton Goggins, Barry Pepper) popping up in supporting roles.

Ultimately, The Death Cure is a bit too long. There is no need to flirt with two and a half hours when much of the last act involves one group chasing after another, and then that second group chasing after the first, moving along in a constant struggle to get to the last stand. But while it is a bit thick with narrative, it never lags. This is not particularly groundbreaking cinema, but it is also no cheap knockoff. It is unique enough and content enough to explore its own little world to make it worth a visit.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is Recommended If You Like: The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, The Action Sequences of the Indiana Jones and Fast and Furious series

Grade: 3 out of 5 Infection Checks

This Is a Movie Review: Wish Upon

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CREDIT: Steve Wilkie / Broad Green Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Elisabeth Röhm, Ki Hong Lee, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Kevin Hanchard, Sherilyn Finn

Director: John R. Leonetti

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Tableaux of Death

Release Date: July 14, 2017

“Be careful what you wish for,” yada yada yada, just state your message and move on – we’re here for the blood! Actually though, discerning horror viewers, like all film buffs, are really here for the imagination. Sure, plenty of us have reveled in excessive gore from time to time, but what we really want is a new innovation for toying with our deepest fears. Wish Upon’s premise offers little groundbreaking, but it is simple enough that there is plenty of room for surprising variation. For the majority of its running time, that potential is unrealized, but a breathless finale hints at what could have been and is nearly intense to salvage the whole endeavor.

Clare Shannon (the already-prolific-at-17 Joey King) is not too different from most teenagers, insofar as she wishes she were rich and popular, that the cute boy would fall in love with her, and that her dad (Ryan Phillippe) would stop being SOOO embarrassing. But unlike most teenagers, her dad dumpster dives for valuables, and she is the lead in a horror movie, thus she finds herself in position of an ancient Chinese music box. When she declares whatever she desires in the presence of the box, her wish automatically comes true – bing, bang, boom, no questions asked! Of course, there is a catch: each wish granted is paid for with the death of a loved one. All of Clare’s wishes are selfish, so there is a moral reckoning at play here. But when one of her friends asks her why she does not wish for, say, world peace, it begs the question: would such a noble request also be balanced out with a killing? There is no indication that the box would make any distinctions between wishes in terms of its price.

Wish Upon unfortunately never gets around to exploring these philosophical conundrums. Instead, it spins its wheels, as Clare refuses to accept the obviousness of what is going on. Skepticism about the supernatural is understandable, as horror movie characters usually do not realize that they are in a horror movie. But at a certain point, there is no logical or the film refusing to move forward, it settles into a routine of neo-Valley Girl high school slice of life interspersed with killing in the key of Final Destination-lite (i.e., simple Rube Goldberg, minor tension).

That is a shame, because there are plenty of disturbing, intense, or just plain unusual directions that this premise could go in. And in its last act, Wish Upon suddenly finds the right inspiration to meet that potential. The thing is, Clare is not just like any other teenager, as made clear in a ten-years-earlier prologue in which her mom (Elisabeth Röhm) commits suicide Magically transporting to some ideal life is tempting, and it may feel perfect at first, but there is bound to be some nagging feeling that will not go away about how wrong this impossible wish fulfillment is. You do not need a vengeful spirit to make that clear, but as horror metaphors go, it’s a handy one. Playing around with it for an hour and a half could be quite the unsettling trip; Wish Upon gives us just a taste.

Wish Upon is Recommended If You Like: Means Girls crossed with The Grudge, the Final Destination series

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Smegmas