As with its predecessors, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a well-executed YA adaptation and adequately entertaining, and the final entry culminates to a strong, satisfying conclusion of the series. The third installment races to home theaters with an often beautiful 4K HDR10 presentation, a highly-satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and a healthy selection of supplements, making the overall package Recommended.
Knowing this is their final entry in the dystopian sci-fi trilogy, the filmmakers responsible for adapting the popular YA novel series go balls to the wall and to the hilt in Maze Runner: The Death Cure, starting with an unexpectedly thrilling rescue mission aboard a speeding train. Last we left the runaway kids, they found safe haven with rebel organization The Right Arm but were soon betrayed by one of their own, making captives of friends and nearly collapsing the resistance group. In the opening minutes of this second sequel, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) has apparently moved up the ranks, taking a leadership role in the operation to save his friends despite previous entries leaving us to question his competency in such a role. He may eventually lead his team to an intended goal and destination, but it's never without extraneous difficulty and a great deal of mistrust, making his so-called successes more a result of dumb luck than as planned. And once again, his command rescues two familiar faces by chance but fails its main objective: saving Minho.
Granted, mistakenly leaving Minho (Ki Hong Lee) behind is really the catalyst and central point of the whole script, written by T.S. Nowlin, who is also responsible for the first two movies and served as co-writer on Pacific Rim Uprising. However, it all feels a bit too convenient, a seemingly random coincidence giving the protagonists (O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Dexter Darden) an excuse to carry out another rescue attempt that quickly spirals out of control yet coincidentally works in the hero's favor. It's almost as if the filmmakers were solely relying on coincidences for moving the plot along, perhaps something along the lines of bumping into an old friend from the Glades previously thought dead (Will Poulter). By sheer chance, he is also part of a rebellion faction just outside the walls of Last City, the final stronghold of the WCKD organization responsible for imprisoning and testing on the kids. And of course, he also knows a secret entrance and the key for rescuing Minho: backstabbing, morally-ambiguous Teresa (Kaya Scodelario).
Despite all these eye-rolling happy accidents, director Wes Ball, who has stuck with the series from the beginning, manages to make light entertainment of it all and doesn't linger on the incredible amount of luck riding on the side of the kids. In fact, he occasionally uses them as a source of humor throughout, keeping from the story becoming too dark and dour. The jokes, however, don't take away from some glaring plot holes, such as an explanation for why scaring and torturing teens is the only means for converting their blood into a cure. It's clear Teresa has sided with the enemy and is a full-fledged disciple of Patricia Clarkson's Ava Paige while enjoying telling cold-hearted kidnapper Janson (Aidan "Littlefinger" Gillen) what to do, which makes sense because, let's be honest, he just has that kind of untrustworthy face anyone would love to boss around. What's not clear, though, is how exactly is she suddenly a proficient and qualified scientist. WCKD must have one hell of a university for her to graduate in less than a year.
Still, much of this off-topic pondering is easily brushed aside, as Ball maintains our attention on the kids' primary objective while the rebel group, led by a horribly disfigured Walton Goggins, works at bringing WCKD to ruins. For this third installment of the rather unexceptional yet decently entertaining franchise, the journey to escape the grasp of WCKD's torture-inducing plan for saving humanity explodes into larger set pieces and more elaborate blockbuster action sequences that borrow from other sci-fi dystopian features. Complementing the thrills and excitement is Gyula Pados' eye-catching photography, often taking a moment to appreciate the desert landscape or the CG imagery of Last City as characters face to the right in a wide shot when feeling hopeful but then, face to the left in medium to medium close-ups when pessimistic or doubtful. The Maze Runner movies may not be high on the list of good YA adaptations, but they have been some of the better-executed movies. And The Death Cure finishes the series on a satisfying high note.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Maze Runner: The Death Cure to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy, which can be redeemed via FoxDigitalMovies.com but only available in HD / SDR and HDX on VUDU. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout keepcase, and the package includes an exclusive 24-page color comic book titled Origins. At startup, the UHD goes straight to the main menu screen with full-motion clips, the usual options along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The third installment in the sci-fi action series escapes the clutches of death on Ultra HD with a splendidly beautiful HEVC H.265 encode that easily outruns its Blu-ray counterpart and should be the preferred way of enjoying the movie.
As before, Gyula Pados's stylized photography is an interesting mix of sullenness yet fascinatingly vibrant, making for an eye-catching and weirdly captivating picture. The orange-teal palette oddly feels more exaggerated and enhanced, slightly skewing the rest of the colors but not by much. The warm, hearty yellows and earthy browns outside the Last City or involving the resistance fighters show a blend of gold, butter, mocha and coffee hues. Also immediately apparent are flashes of hot, beaming orange from the siren lights of the lab facility or the intense fiery glow of explosions and the smaller splashes of pastels in the sunset glow or random articles of clothing. The conversations involving WCKD officials and their research facility, drowning in cold, steely blues, feels more oppressed, but there are also several spatterings of intensely animated reds and glowing greens supplying the super-serious and brooding YA flick with some life and making for a surprisingly lovely picture.
The freshly-minted transfer also displays luxuriously rich blacks in practically every scene, providing the 2.40:1 image with excellent dimensionality and a welcomed cinema quality. Most impressive is being able to note clear differences in the dark uniforms of WCKD's military police, distinguishing the nylon straps and belts from the rest of the clothes while still being able to see the intricate stitching of the fabric. Likewise, shadows never obscure or completely swamp the smallest detail in the darkest corner of the frame. On the other side of the spectrum, the 4K presentation displays pitch-perfect contrast and crisp, resplendent whites, making the fluffy clouds against the blue sky really pop and the sterile walls of lab facility seem even more sanitary. Unlike its HD SDR counterpart, the brightest highlights are tighter and better controlled, exposing the finer details within lamps, the rays of the hot sun, massive explosions and other random sources of light.
Shot on the Arri Alexa camera system, capable of up to 3.4K resolution, the 2160p video offers a welcomed uptick in overall definition with some moments looking better than others. At its best, the freshly-minted digital transfer offers outstanding detailing and clarity of the tiniest object in the background, from the clean, distinct lines along the concrete walls of Last City to the rust scratches of the rebellion base. As with the Blu-ray, viewers can plainly make out the stitching of clothing or individual pebbles on the desert floor, but the healthy facial complexions reveal slightly better lifelike textures, exposing every wrinkle and negligible blemish. However, much of this is balanced with several softer sequences, mostly having to do extreme long shots, in which I also noted some minimal digital noise. A couple instances of very mild aliasing also keep this otherwise beautiful presentation just shy of perfection.
The race to find a cure crashes home theaters with a highly-satisfying and thrilling Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but like the video, the upgrade only offers some minor improvements over its DTS-HD counterpart.
Nevertheless, the object-based track delivers a slightly better sense of envelopment, filling the entire room with a variety of atmospherics that move between the surrounds and ceiling speakers smoothly. In the opening action sequence, WCKD's aerial vehicle distinctly flies from the screen to the height channels and behind the listening area, and the helicopter-like blades can also be heard loudly overhead. During the tunnel scene and the final third act, the screams of both the infected and the rebels echo in every which direction to create an awesome spatial environment while gun blasts and explosions reverberate all around. But as before, the movie comes with a good deal of silence during the more dialogue-driven scenes, which is then offset by the sudden bursts of action.
The design's real strength, however, is along the front soundstage, which is continuously layered with plenty of background activity discretely moving across all three channels evenly and fluidly, generating a very broad and spacious soundscape. Along with the music of John Paesano, many of those effects travel into the top heights and create an amusing half-dome image. Similar to what's heard on the Blu-ray, an outstanding mid-range delivers superb detailing and clarity, allowing the listener to hear every grinding crunch of metal on metal, the distinct throaty shriek of the infected and the ear-piercing blasts of explosions. Amid the chaos and commotion, dialogue remains top priority and precise in the center. Interestingly, the low-end feels slightly throatier with a bit more punch in the mid-bass levels, delivering better weight and resonance during the action-packed visuals. The bass may not energize the room in a wholly impressive way, but overall, the lossless mix is highly satisfying with plenty of force behind it.
Audio Commentary: Director Wes Ball is joined by writer T.S. Nowlin and producer Joe Hartwick, Jr. discussing the technical details of the production while also sharing various anecdotes from the set.
Unlocking the Cure (HD, 22 min): A four-part short doc made mostly of BTS footage and cast & crew interviews talking about the production, the characters and performances.
Visual Effects (HD): A pair of self-explanatory BTS featurettes with optional director's commentary.
Visual Effects Breakdown (17 min)
Visual Effects Reel (11 min)
Going Out on Top (HD, 5 min): A focused piece on the opening action sequence.
Gag Reel (HD, 12 min).
Deleted Scenes (HD, 28 min).
Still Gallery (HD).
The filmmakers responsible for adapting the popular YA novel series go balls to the wall and to the hilt in Maze Runner: The Death Cure, bringing the franchise to a large, blockbuster-like, explosive finale. With the same cast of the previous two entries reprising their roles, the third installment delivers the visual thrills and excitement to maintain interest but not much else thanks to a script that arrives at a conclusion by sheer luck. The dystopian sci-fi sequel finds sanctuary on 4K Ultra HD with a splendidly beautiful HDR10 presentation and a highly-satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, making this the preferred way of enjoying the movie. With a healthy collection of supplements to boot, the overall package is recommended for both fans of the franchise and those looking for more HDR goodness.