The Maze Runner
Every month, a boy is carried up an elevator into a glade. He has no memory, no purpose, no place, but a maze surrounds the glade and its mysteries beckon. The Maze Runner is a high-tension, thrill ride of a film based on the excellent young adult book by James Dashner. Feeling like a mix of Lost and The Lord of the Flies, it does a great job of pulling the audience in and not letting you go until the credits roll. While it has its flaws, its benefits outweigh its faults and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes films like The Hunger Games.
Thomas arrives in the glade by elevator and is immediately intrigued by the maze that surrounds a community of young men struggling to survive. As the mysteries of the maze begin to unravel, Thomas must find a way to save the community he has come to love and cope with realizations that he may have been involved in creating their plight.
Fans of the books know that The Maze Runner is a careful balance between tension and mystery with a good dose of heart thrown in. I’m happy to report that the movie nails this balance as well, and the script distills the book down to what’s absolutely necessary to keep things moving forward at a breakneck pace. For the most part, things progress logically and there are more than enough twists and turns to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. It all plays like a high-stakes version of Lost, and even though I’ve read the books, it kept me intrigued and changed enough to keep me guessing.
My only complaint in the story department is that in building the pace, a few things had to be cut out that leave a few main characters feeling pointless or with little overall effect. The one female character does almost nothing to advance the story, and while she’ll almost certainly be integral in the sequels, she has little to do here. Other characters show up only when needed and then seem to vanish entirely with no character build. The core group is strong enough to outweigh this, but it feels a little off.
They also moved an incredibly key moment in the book to the end, and it just didn’t fit there as well for me and made the movie seem more cliché. With several “escape the deadly puzzle” movies in existence already, I think The Maze Runner could have genuinely benefitted from a different sort of character build than movies like The Hunger Games and the final twist could have come earlier without hurting anything. In the book, the characters build very naturally and their tensions all make perfect sense in the battle between taking risks and safety. In the movie version this still holds true for the most part, but a few of the characters were pushed towards being Hollywood clichés and performing predictably when maybe they shouldn’t have been.
Even with some clichés and underutilized characters, the story still has all the key moments from the book and if you’re anything like me, it will keep you completely hooked from beginning to end.
Technique & Direction
The director’s background in art design and animation is abundantly apparent. The film looks great and there’s a wonderful sense of weight and impact to the world that caused me to buy into it more than I bought into The Hunger Games. Shots are quick but never annoying, and the focus is always squarely where it needs to be. For a new director, I was very impressed by Ball’s work here and I’m glad they’ve already signed him on for the sequel.
Ball deserves particular kudos for the pacing. The Maze Runner is one of the most consistently intense movies I’ve seen in a while, but Ball balanced it carefully so it never becomes too much tension or loses its believability. He handled the action deftly while keeping tension boiling in the background during moments of character build.
For a cast of mostly newcomers and young actors, The Maze Runner is remarkably convincing. Dylan O’Brien brings out both the toughness and heart of the main character, Thomas, and I never felt that I didn’t buy into him. Blake Cooper made a great (if somewhat cliché) Chuck, and Aml Ameen’s Alby was one of the highlights of the movie for me. Like I said in the story section, Kaya Scoldario’s Theresa is dramatically underutilized, but hopefully she’ll play a bigger role in the sequels. None of the performances are Oscar worthy by a long-shot, but I enjoyed watching this cast on screen and I would predict successful careers for many of them.
The only character I struggled to buy into was Will Poulter’s Galley, but I believe it’s as much of a problem with how they wrote him as with the actor himself.
The Sound, 3D, and CGI
The sound is a huge part of what gives the maze its daunting feel, and all the sound effects did a great job of creating the believability of the world. There were points where I remember definitely liking the soundtrack, and the rest of the time it was unobtrusive and lent itself well to building the tension.
There’s no 3D version of this movie, and honestly it was nice to have an action film that didn’t bombard me with it. I don’t think 3D would have added much to this movie anyway.
As for the CGI, the maze and the grievers (the creepy, partially robotic defenders of the maze) looked excellent. No complaints from me there.
What All of This Means to You
While there’s nothing genuinely new here in terms of story, theme, or direction, everything works so well that I doubt anyone who isn’t a critic will mind overly much. The Maze Runner is fun, intense, and intriguing, and a worthy competitor for The Hunger Games. I’ll certainly be looking forward to the next entry in the series.
The Bad: Underutilized characters, patches of cliche writing, not for everyone
Thankfully this movie really surprised me in what it offered. I was fully engaged in the mystery elemnt of the film, and was impressed at how they managed to keep it going, giving us nuggets of information, without me growing bored. Some myster films have the problem in that they get to a point where it feels like some sort of resolution should have been reached, and I grow frustrated with the wait. Maze Runner deftly avoided those traps and kept the audience engaged with stronger characters and action moments that had me gripping the arm rests!
My biggest gripe, with the film has to do with the female character. I mean, if she hadn't been in the film, I doubt anything would have changed. She was utterly useless and I constantly found myself wondering what the point of her being there was. It was kind of weird, as they made such a big deal out of her arrival and then suddenly no one cares that she's there. While I've heard she did a lot more in the book, for the movie her character didn't work at all.
It's not a perfect film, and it has some cliches that could have been taken out. However, it was a very entertaining movie and shows a lot of promise for the future of the franchise. It's much like how I felt with the first Hunger Games film. I enjoyed it, had some issues, but thought in general it had a lot of potential. Maze Runner is the same, and I can't wait to see whay Scorch Trials will bring.