As young-adult franchises go, The Maze Runner has always had a grab-bag, bargain-bin quality to it. There’s a little bit of something for everyone—a wicked corporation (that’s conveniently named “WCKD”); a post-apocalyptic society choked with hordes of roving zombies; a futuristic city housing the elite; a love triangle; and a cornucopia of middle-aged character actors surrounding our teenaged heroes. As its final edition, The Death Cure, rolls into theaters, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer amount of content packed into The Maze Runner trilogy, if by nothing else.
We’re only six years removed from the release of the first entry in The Hunger Games, the film franchise based on a series of dystopian young-adult books that inspired a slew of Hollywood imitators—including the Divergent movies and the spiffed-up take on Lois Lowry’s The Giver. But in 2018, The Maze Runner seems almost charmingly outdated, a veritable throwback in today’s accelerated Hollywood climate. Plucky kids defying their futuristic corporate overlords might be yesterday’s news, but there’s one last maze for our heroes to solve.
The first Maze Runner, released in 2014, was set entirely within—you might want to sit down for this—a huge maze, populated by a coterie of athletic young male amnesiacs. The protagonist Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) was dumped into the labyrinth without his memory, and bonded with fellow “runners” like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) as they tried to solve the mystery of their giant prison and did battle with horrifying techno-organic monsters. It turned out (spoiler alert) that the maze was a gigantic science experiment run by WCKD, a company searching for the cure to a world-ending plague.