As Flixist’s resident Young Adult novel correspondent, I’ve seen lots of forgettable teen films. With studios betting huge fortunes on these films becoming successful franchises (like Twilight and The Hunger Games), most of these series tend to forget they need a suitable first entry to get kids interested in the first place less they flop around and count their chickens before anything hatches like Divergent.
The Maze Runner is the latest in a long line of hopeful franchises that want to hit the ground running, but it stumbles out the gate. While it looks good, and is acted well enough, there’s no cheese at the end of this maze.
The Maze Runner
Director: Wes Ball
Release Date: September 19, 2014
Adapted from James Dashner’s novel of the same name, The Maze Runner follows Thomas (Dylan O’ Brien) as he’s dropped in the middle of a giant maze with a tribe of other young boys. Stripped of their memories, the boys learn that it’s either survive in The Glade (the center of the maze which they call home) or take their chances with a labyrinth housing the Greavers, monsters who freely roam the maze at night. As Thomas slowly regains his memories, his curiosity draws him further and further into the ever adapting maze.
Amidst the bloated post-apocalyptic teen drama genre, The Maze Runner really stands out. Its testosterone fueled action and characters help to alleviate the plot above standard tropes like love triangles. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean Runner is unique as it chooses to mine older sources for material. The plot is definitely a myriad of stories you’ve seen/read before (Lord of Flies, and to a lesser extent, The Chocolate War), but to Runner‘s credit, it never wastes time getting to actions as it chooses to display numerous scenes of running rather than invest in its characters.
Runner‘s pace is an odd duck. At times its minimal take on world building is praise worthy as the mysteries of the labyrinth seem to unfurl naturally, but at other points, big reveals are just shotgunned out in some frenetic mess. With a haphazardly delivered plot such as this, it’s hard to get invested in any of the characters. It’s weird as I normally find myself always wanting to avoid origin stories, but I never quite thought about the absence of one. Perhaps forgoing the standard procedure would’ve been worthwhile had the main character Thomas had any interesting traits, but as is, he evolves from a salt pillar to a salt pillar with a few sprinkles of pepper. It’s certainly telling when a few of the side characters stand out more than the guy at the center just because they’ve got sparks of personalities. Like Chuck (who’s pretty much a depressing take on Chunk from The Goonies), who gets the most development out of any character just because of his highly telegraphed end.
But if you can get passed the lack of involvement with any of the characters, then there’s quite a bit to enjoy. Runner looks great. Adding to all of the testosterone is a grimy, pulverized look. Each boy looks like they’ve lived in the wild in for some time without coming across as savage, and there’s a sense of community in the way their homes are built. The real star of the show, the labyrinth itself, is a visual treat. Each time the characters run through, the action is fluid, speedy, and a nice amount of tension is squeezed from the maze’s ever changing form. There may be too many scenes of running through tight spaces before someone is crushed, but they do look good each time. There’s nary hint of green screen anywhere even when it’s completely relied on.
And then there’s the ending. Remember how I said some reveals are just shotgunned? That’s the big problem here. There’s a reveal at the end that only sours the entire experience further as it posits there’d be more sequels to come. It’s jarring to be constantly running at a frantic pace to only be halted by future story to come. That’s like saying the reward for solving the puzzle is more puzzles.
Then again, that’s only if you were invested in the first place.
The Maze Runner runs farther than other Young Adult films out there now, but it never quite wins the race.