Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (dir by Wes Ball)


Here are a few good things about Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

First off, and most importantly, Dylan O’Brien is still alive.  When The Death Cure first went into production way back in 2016, O’Brien was seriously injured on the set.  While it’s never really been disclosed just how serious the injuries were, they were bad enough that it took O’Brien several months to recover.  There was even some speculation that his career might be over.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Last year, O’Brien returned to the screen and gave a superior performance as the lead in American Assassin.  In The Death Cure, O’Brien returns as Thomas and even if the character is still a bit of cipher, O’Brien does a good job playing him.

Secondly, Gally lives!  In the first Maze Runner, Gally was a villain but, because he was played by Will Poulter, he was also strangely likable.  Maze Runner was the first film in which I ever noticed Will Poulter and I have to admit that I’ve always felt that both the actor and the character deserved better than to be casually killed off at the end of the first movie.  Since Maze Runner, Poulter has given great performances in both The Revenant and Detroit.  (He was also briefly cast as Pennywise in It, though the role was ultimately played by Bill Skarsgard.)  In The Death Cure, it is not only revealed that Gally is still alive but he also finally gets to be one of the good guys.

Third, the Death Cure confirms what I felt when I first saw The Maze Runner.  Wes Ball is a talented director.  Despite whatever narrative flaws that the Maze Runner films may have, they’re always watchable.  Death Cure opens with a genuinely exciting action sequence and there are more than a few visually striking shots.

Fourth, Death Cure actually ends the Maze Runner saga.  That may sound like a strange or back-handed compliment but it’s not.  Death Cure resists the temptation to try to milk more money out of the franchise by unnecessarily splitting the finale in two.  I’ve always felt that The Hunger Games made a huge mistake with its two-part finale.  (The first part was good but the second part dragged.)  Divergent appears to be destined to be forever unfinished because the first part of it’s two-part finale bombed at the box office.  Death Cure refuses to indulge in any of that nonsense.  Unfortunately, this also means that Death Cure ends up lasting an unwieldy 142 minutes but still, that’s better than forcing the film into two parts.  With the current YA dysptopia cycle winding down, now is the right time to end things.

Finally, I appreciated the fact that the bad guys in Death Cure were named WCKD.  There’s nothing subtle about that but this isn’t a movie the demands subtlety.  As opposed to many other films based on dystopian YA fiction, The Maze Runner films have always been aware of just how ludicrous they often are.  Unlike the Divergent films or The Fifth Wave, the Maze Runner films have always been smart enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Anyway, as for Death Cure itself, it’s big and noisy and your enjoyment will largely depend on how much you remember about the first two films.  It’s been nearly three years since The Scorch Trials came out, which is an eternity when it comes to a franchise like Maze Runner.  Death Cure pretty much jumps right into the action and if you don’t remember all of the details from the first two films … well, good luck getting caught up!  (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that, while the first movie was fun, Scorch Trials was a lot easier to forget.)  It’s pretty much a typical tale of YA dystopia, complete with tragic deaths, shocking betrayal, and a chosen one.  If you’re a fan of the previous two films or the books, you’ll probably enjoy Death Cure.  For the rest of us, it’s a bit of a confusing ride but at least there’s a lot of up-and-coming talent on display.

Lisa’s Homestate Reviews: Arkansas and Mud


Mud

When it comes to Arkansas, people seem to automatically think of two things.  Arkansas is the former home of Bill and Hillary Clinton and it’s also the state that accused three teenage boys of committing horrific acts of murder, largely on the basis of the fact that one of the boys used to dress in black and listen to heavy metal music.  Between the state’s largely rural image and repeat showings of Paradise Lost on HBO, Arkansas does not exactly have the best reputation.

Myself, I have a lot of childhood memories of Arkansas.  Some of them are good and some of them aren’t so good. My grandmother lived in Fort Smith so, even when my family was living in another state, we would still always find the time to come visit her every summer.  As well, I had (and still have) cousins spread out all over the state.  Almost every road trip that I’ve ever taken has involved at least a few stops in Arkansas.  When I think about Arkansas, I don’t think about the Clintons or Damien Echols.  Instead, to me, Arkansas is where I used to get excited whenever I saw we were approaching grandma’s house and where my mom once grabbed me right before I stepped on a snake that was hidden in the high grass that surrounded my cousin’s farm.

As often as I visited Arkansas while I was growing up, I also actually lived there twice.  I don’t remember the first time, because I was only two years old at the time, but my family spent 3 months living in Ft. Smith before going back to Texas.  Then five years later, we returned to Arkansas and, over the course of 19 months, we lived in Texarkana, Fouke, Van Buren, North Little Rock, and, finally, Ft. Smith once again.

Originally, for Arkansas, I was planning on reviewing The Legend of Boggy Creek, a 1974 psuedo-documentary that deals with a bigfoot-like creature that was said to live near the town of Fouke.  It made perfect sense as not only was The Legend of Boggy Creek filmed in Arkansas but it was produced by an Arkansan as well.  It remains one of the most financially successful independent films of all time and, because it’s presented as being a documentary, it features authentic Arkansans in the cast.  Even more importantly, my family actually lived in Fouke from August of ’93 to May of ’94.  I’ve been down to Boggy Creek!  (Though, to the best of my memory, the monster never made an appearance while we were living in Fouke.)

But then I thought about it and something occurred to me.  The Legend of Boggy Creek is not that good of a movie.  I watched it a few weeks ago and, once I got passed the fact that it was filmed in a town that I have vague memories of living in back when I was seven years old, I found the film itself to be almost unbearably dull.

So, instead of unleashing my snark on a 40 year-old exploitation film, I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend another film that was shot in Arkansas.  This film, however, was one of the best films of 2013.  It’s a film that, if you haven’t watched it yet, you owe it to yourself to see.

It’s a film called Mud.

Directed by Jeff Nichols (who previously gave us the excellent Take Shelter), Mud takes place in the town of DeWitt, Arkansas.  Two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) spend their days going up and down the Arkansas River.  Ellis, the more introspective of the two, dreams of escaping his homelife with an abusive father (Ray McKinnon) and a compliant mother (Sarah Paulson).  Quietly watching over the two boys is Tom (Sam Shepard), an enigmatic older man who lives across the river from Ellis’s family.

One day, Ellis and Neckbone come across a mysterious man living on a small island.  The man’s name is Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and he tells them that he’s waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Whitherspoon).  Mud explains that he killed a man who once pushed her down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant.  Ellis and Neckbone agree to help Mud, secretly supplying him with food and delivering notes from him to Juniper.

However, the father (Joe Don Baker) of the man who Mud killed has arrived in town as well.  He’s brought an army of mercenaries with him and, each morning, he gathers them together for a quick prayer and then sends them out to track down and kill Mud…

Mud is a wonderful film, one that is full of visually striking images and excellent performances.  (If Dallas Buyers Club hadn’t come out later that same year, Matthew McConaughey could have just as easily been nominated for his charismatic and sympathetic performance here.)  Even more importantly, the film is full of authentic local culture and color.  If, decades from now, someone asked me what Arkansas was like in the early 21st Century, Mud is the film that I would show them.

Much as how Richard Linklater can capture Texas in a way that a non-Texan never could, Mud is fortunate to have been directed by a native of Arkansas.  Watching Mud, it quickly becomes obvious that Jeff Nichols knows and understands Arkansas and, as such, he presents an honest portrait of the state.

Every state should hope to inspire a film as well-made and entertaining as Mud.