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Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze Runner (2014)

Directed by: Wes Ball

Premise: Based on the novel by James Dashner. A teenager (Dylan O’Brien) awakens in an agrarian community populated by other teenage boys. The green space is located at the center of a gigantic maze of concrete and steel. The young villagers debate whether to stay inside the village or venture into the maze.

What Works: The Maze Runner is the latest young adult novel to be adapted to the screen and this is among the better titles. One of the prime ways in which The Maze Runner is distinguished from other young adult adaptations is its characters. In a lot of recent disappointments, such as The Mortal Instruments, The Host, and Divergent, the characters were uninteresting and flat. The teenage boys of The Maze Runner are distinct characters and the central cast are given a fair amount of depth. Despite the outlandish nature of the premise, The Maze Runner manages some degree of credibility and that is centrally due to the actors. It helps that the filmmakers have cast a wide range of looks; where the characters of movies like Twilight and The Giver tended to have the homogenous, sterile, and well combed look of models in a fashion magazine, the young men in The Maze Runner possess a variety of body types and ethnicities. Dylan O’Brien plays Thomas, the point of view character, and he is generally a watchable protagonist. The antagonist of the movie is played by Will Poulter. As Gally, Poulters’ job is to push against the innovations of O’Brien’s character but Gally is more than a bully. As things get bleaker, Gally holds onto what is stable and even though his obstinance is maladjusted to survival it’s a rational response that is somewhat sympathetic. The two most notable performances of The Maze Runner are provided by Aml Ameen as Alby and Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt. Alby is the leader of the village and actor Aml Ameen plays him in a way that exudes charisma and intelligence but also vulnerability. Newt is played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster and despite his small frame, Brodie-Sangster is an impressive screen presence. The Maze Runner is also distinguished from other young adult fantasy adaptations by its intelligence. The scenario of the film is similar to an episode of The Twilight Zone or the classic Star Trek television series in that the filmmakers have devised an elaborate scenario through which to explore the tensions between tradition and innovation within a society. As part of the story world, the maze that surrounds the village is patrolled by biomechanical monsters and when they attack the movie gets very violent. The violence is a tribute to the filmmakers’ insofar as they credit the audience as being able to handle difficult subject matter but also because these violent scenes require the characters to go out on a limb to protect each other and that makes them heroic.

What Doesn’t: As good as the young male cast of The Maze Runner can be, the village has just one female member, played by Kaya Scodelario, and the character is underused. She does not do much, she isn’t nearly as interesting as her male counterparts, and her character serves no story function. The bigger problem of The Maze Runner is in its limited appeal. This movie is clearly intended to set up a franchise but the bigger story world doesn’t inspire interest. This becomes really apparent in the ending. After the climactic battle scene, The Maze Runner stops dead to dump a lot of exposition in the audience’s lap in which the truth about the village and the maze are explained. The reveal is supposed to be shocking but it is underwhelming and pretty stupid. The filmmakers compound the problem with several a silly twists that make no sense and come across entirely unnecessary.

Bottom Line: The Maze Runner is not a great movie but it is better than the average adaptation of a young adult dystopian novel. The movie does not inspire excitement over its potential sequels the way the original Hunger Games did and any follow up is going to have to be much better than this. 

Episode: #510 (September 28, 2014)