The Glade. The Grievers. The Greenie.
In 2014, “The Maze Runner” introduced us to those terms and others, spawning a hilarious “Saturday Night Live” parody in the process.
To be fair, though, the film’s dystopian-future scenario — in which a bunch of young men and, eventually, a young woman live in an area (the Glade) wrapped by a great wall that contains an elaborate, ever-changing labyrinth (the Maze) home to giant killer spider robots (the Grievers) that roam the Maze at night — was pretty intriguing, at least as far as dystopian-future dramas aimed at young people go. (The film is based on the 2009 young-adult novel of the same name by James Dashner.)
Oh, and the Greenie? That is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a newbie at the story’s beginning, hence the nickname, who rises to become one of the Runners — athletic Gladers who explore the Maze during the day, mapping its changing layout in the name of finding a way out of their confinement.
The story continued with the largely entertaining if not nearly as intriguing 2015 follow-up, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” which took Thomas and company beyond the Maze into a post-apocalyptic world and — spoiler alert — saw the aforementioned young woman, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), betray her fellow Gladers to the seemingly sinister World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department. WCKD, as its know, is trying to find a cure for the Flare virus that has ravaged the earth, but its methods are, to say the least, questionable.
And now, at long last, comes final chapter “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” which is a shade less entertaining and even less intriguing than its predecessor but nonetheless brings an emotionally satisfying end to the story, even if an aspect of the conclusion is frustrating.
Originally slated for release last year, “The Death Cure” was delayed after O’Brien suffered serious, if not-life-threatening injuries during the shoot. The accident is said to have happened during filming of the tremendous opening action sequence in which Thomas and allies Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito of “Better Call Saul”), Brenda (Rosa Salazar, “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” and Vince (Barry Pepper, “Kill the Messenger”) advance on a speeding train. The goal is to rescue Minho (Ki Hong Lee, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), another onetime Runner, who along with other young people immune to the virus is being transported to WCKD headquarters for testing.
While the rescue efforts aren’t completely without success, Minho is not saved. Thus, Thomas declines to sail away on a boat Vince and others are rehabbing and instead leads a small band that eventually includes Brenda, Jorge and Gladers Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Frypan (Dexter Darden) through the wasteland (the Scorch) and past the infected (the Cranks) to what is called “The Last City.”
“If that place is still standing, it’s the last place you want to go,” Jorge warns Thomas. “That’s the lion’s den.”
When they arrive outside the city, they find it walled off, WCKD HQ lying deep inside and unrest with those kept just beyond reach of the metropolis. Even if they can get to WCKD, they’ll face security forces led by familiar adversary Janson (Aidan Gillen of “Game of Thrones”). They’ll need the help of Teresa, who has gone back to working toward a cure under the supervision of Dr. Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson, “House of Cards”). But, even if she agrees to aid them, can they trust her?
Speaking of trust, Thomas and Newt are offered help from someone previously untrustworthy who they certainly do not expect to encounter along the way.
Like the series as whole, “The Death Cure” works for a number of reasons, starting with the younger cast members. O’Brien (“Teen Wolf,” “American Assassin”) continues to make Thomas an everyman hero you believe others would follow. O’Brien shines in a plot thread involving Thomas’ friendship with Newt, even if Brodie-Sangster (“Game of Thrones”) handles more of the heavy lifting and does so quite nicely.
O’Brien also continues to share a nice chemistry with the promising Scodelario, last seen in 2017’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” The ongoing will-they-won’t-they dynamic established in “The Maze Runner” still has legs in “The Death Cure.”
Behind the scenes, the two stars are director Wes Ball and writer T.S. Nowlin, who have adapted each of Dashner’s three original novels into movies. (Dashner later penned two prequels, “The Kill Order” and “The Fever Code.)
Even though this series starts stronger than it finishes, it feels like a cohesive vision. And Ball should be lauded for wanting to make three movies from the three books, not having the final book split into two big-screen parts, a creative mistake studios have made with other series, albeit one that comes with easy-to-see financial rewards. Sure, “The Death Cure” is too long at about two hours and 20 minutes and really starts wearing out its welcome around the two-hour mark, but that’s decidedly a lesser evil than two story-thin stretched-out movies.
The ending of the movie — and thus the trilogy — is a little frustrating, a key character making a decision that seemingly he or she doesn’t have to make. However, it does feel like an ending, and that matters most.
“The Maze Runner” trilogy is far from perfect, but it sure feels more satisfying than the abandoned “Divergent” saga and, arguably, a little big more than the “Hunger Games” series.
Rest now, Gladers. Now your maze is run.
‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’
In theaters: Jan. 26.
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements.
Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Stars (of four): 2.5.