The Maze Runner is the result of taking the great 1997 horror film Cube and mixing it with the passable 2012 film The Hunger Games in order to hop aboard the tiresome 2014 bandwagon of adapting young adult sci-fi litterature to the big screen, including all the teenage drama that’s par for the course. Having just recently seen The Giver, it’s kinda starting to wear on me, even if The Giver isn’t all that similar to the other films that fit the trend.
As for The Maze Runner, however, it turns out I was in for something of a delightful surprise. It is based on the similarly named sci-fi book by James Dashner – and OF COURSE it’s part of a trilogy – which came out in 2009 and received very “meh”-based reactions, at least according to what few reviews I’ve found. The overall critical response to this film seems stronger, though, and I will gladly confess that out of the multiple films I’ve seen this year that try to cash in on the aforementioned trend, this is one of the better ones.
The film is – get this – set in the future. Memory-less and bewildered, the young Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) awakens to find himself in a grass field surrounded by towering metal walls. This is our protagonist for the evening. Thomas is approached by a group of youngsters known as Gladers, so-called because the area he’s come to is called “The Glade”, led by a fella named Alby (Alm Ameen). Thomas learns that these people have been living in this grassy clearing for an extended period of time, and that there is only way out: through The Maze. The Gladers that attempt to navigate the Maze become known as Maze Runners, but they must be back in the Glade by nightfall as the gate into The Maze automatically seals itself by then, changes its internal layout, and becomes the home of hostile creatures known as Grievers. This doesn’t stop Thomas from eventually deciding that there must be a better place out there somewhere, and that they must go in and look for the way there.
Other Gladers include Thomas Sangster (of Love Actually and Game of Thrones) as Alby’s second-in-command Newt, Blake Cooper as a friendly boy named Chuck, Ki Hong Lee as the main Runner, Will Poulter as the stubborn and eventually villainous Gally, and Kaya Scodelario as the only female main character in the movie; make what you will of that. In any case, the society that the Gladers have constructed during their many years of captivity is an interesting one, and I suppose the lack of women could be part of the test, to see how these years have affected their, ahem, “manly urges”.
On that note, though, who’s actually running this whole experiment and trapping all these people in The Glade, sometimes sending supplies and new members via an elevator in the ground, is a mystery kept in secret throughout pretty much the whole film. This is something I enjoyed about The Maze Runner. The film focuses mostly on these teenagers, never going behind the scenes like in Hunger Games and instead aiming for more of a Lord of The Flies story, except that the kids who try to run their own society in this film are, of course, a little bit older than Ralph, Piggy and the rest.
As a science fiction film, the concept around which it’s constructed is a genuinely interesting one and in spite of the lukewarm reviews I’ve read, the movie actually made me interested in checking this book out at some point. Compared to similar pieces of YA fiction, this one struck me as a lot darker and more bold. It reminds me of a web story I wrote once; a group of young people trapped together on a beautiful meadow and kept from civilization by unknown forces that seemingly control a giant barrier that surrounds the meadow. The difference is that in my story the barrier was a translucent wall of light in front of steep mountainsides, whereas in this one it’s a maze. The Maze Runner is much better in my opinion.
For one thing, it’s strong on visuals. Wes Ball, the director, was originally a VFX artist and just as an actor-turned-director will provide films with the most exquisite of performances, this film is proof that former VFX artists will make some of the prettiest films. Ball also made a really cool short film called Ruin in 2012 which you ought to check out! The performances are worth praise too, though, especially since many of them are young newcomers. This is a good start.
I advice my readers to give The Maze Runner a shot. My further advice is that you try to book tickets for a less crowded screening, seeing as mine featured a curious amount of Tweens Going “Aww”™ for reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the cast featuring an overwhelming assortment of cute boys and the marketing making tweens think this was gonna be more fangirl pandering à la Divergent. Whatever the reason for the magnitude of Tweens Going “Aww”™ at my screening, just make sure to avoid such screenings. The less Tweens Going “Aww”™, the better a night at the movies.