[Screen It]

(2018) (Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: A ragtag group of people tries to break into a walled city in order to save a friend who's been abducted by government forces intent on finding a cure to a virus that leaves its victims in a zombie-like state.
Having survived and escaped from a dystopian land known as The Glade that was surrounded by a monster-filled maze -- only to discover that it was all just part of a test conceived and run by Ava Paige (PATRICIA CLARKSON), the leader of WCKD (World Catastrophe Killzone Department), in hopes of finding a cure for a virus that turns humans into zombie-like creatures known as "cranks" -- a group of young people is in search mode for one of their own, Minho (KI HONG LEE).

He's being held captive by Ava and her head of security, Janson (AIDAN GILLEN), and being tested by Teresa (KAYA SCODELARIO), a former "glader" who now works for WCKD. That hasn't been sitting well with her former boyfriend and fellow glader, Thomas (DYLAN O'BRIEN), who, alongside resistance leader Vince (BARRY PEPPER), tried to pull off a hostage-freeing raid, only to discover that they that somehow missed Minho.

With the help of Jorge (GIANCARLO ESPOSITO) and his young adult-aged surrogate daughter, Brenda (ROSE SALAZAR), Thomas and his pals Newt (THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER) and Frypan (DEXTER DARDEN), head toward WCKD's last stronghold, an immense modern city surrounded by an equally immense and highly armed wall. Along the way, however, they're snatched by a group of men who turn out to be led by their former Glade rival, Gally (WILL POULTER), who they incorrectly believed had been killed.

He takes them to the leader of their resistance, Lawrence (WALTON GOGGINS), who's planning on an all-out assault on the city, but first helps get Thomas and his friends inside WCKD's headquarters. From that point on, they try to find and rescue Minho, all while Thomas ends up conflicted upon seeing Teresa again and Janson attempts to kill all of them.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I have a friend whose parents apparently got him the unlimited data plan on his original birthday in terms of memory capacity. I'm not exaggerating when I say you can ask him to name the starting lineup for the '57 Dodgers (or any team of any year) and he can do so without pause or the blink of an eye.

And his movie knowledge (plots, quotes and so on) for films new and old (and I'm talking sometimes 80 years ago) would put most every film critic I know to shame. Simply put, whatever has gone in and continues to go in sticks, stays and can be retrieved with ease.

My parents apparently bought the economy memory plan that comes with expiration dates. Of course I can still recall all sorts of things, but my movie trivia abilities have diminished with age. Perhaps it's just that -- too many laps around the sun -- or maybe having to take so many content notes on each and every movie I see that my brain now dumps material in short order simply out of self-preservation and sanity mode.

Whatever the case, I often hear about some past film, think it sounds interesting, and then discover, much to my horror, that I already saw AND reviewed it. Not as bad but still troubling for someone in my line of work, I'll often know I've seen some particular film, but will recall absolutely nothing about it, even if my viewing of it wasn't that long ago.

Case in point upon arriving at the theater to view "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," the third and presumably last installment in the sci-fi action flick series based on the books by James Dashner, I couldn't remember a thing about its immediate predecessor.

Thankfully I wasn't alone as a few other critics my age and older were in the exact same memory boat, and thus we asked a kid who was present what happened and he got us up to speed. Double-thankfully, at least he stated he didn't think it was that memorable either, so I'll go with that as the explanation.

Only time will tell if part trois manages to pass the memory test, but I can say with certainty that in the real-time moments of watching it, this offering goes down fairly easy as escapist action entertainment (although 30 to 40 minutes of footage easily could have been cut with no ill effect but with the potential of turning this into a lean, crackerjack action flick).

Returning director Wes Ball -- working from a script by T.S. Nowlin (likewise returning for a third time around -- takes up where 2015's "Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials" left off (or at least that's what I'm kind of remembering after the debriefing by the kid in our theater).

Having discovered in the second film that the events in the far better first film were just a test, our plucky group of youngins (including those played by Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Dexter Darden) are desirous of rescuing their comrade (Ki Hong Lee) who's been abducted by the villainous adults (represented by Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen) and subjected to testing by the protagonist's former girlfriend turned traitor (Kaya Scodelario).

And that's about really all there is to the storyline. Sure, there are other characters who likewise return, but in short the film is about breaking into a walled city to rescue another teen from the bad adults, all while other rebels plot their big attack on the same and a bunch of zombified people occasionally pop up to raise the horror stakes.

There's nothing new here in terms of post-apocalyptic dramatic thrillers (at least the original had a specific novelty factor going for it) and there isn't anything remarkable enough present to take up any valuable storage space in my noggin.

But the action is handled decently and all involved actually manage to pull at some heartstrings by the time everything is said and done. Closing out the series with some occasional bangs rather than a forgettable whimper, "Maze Runner: The Death Cure" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 16, 2018 / Posted January 26, 2018

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