Get ready for yet another movie featuring attractive young people (this time, all guys except for one girl) trapped in a daunting situation that they cannot figure out. Once again, we are faced with a young adult fantasy thriller that sits somewhere between The Hunger Games and Divergent, but throws in a little Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan for some literary credit for the older or more educated audiences. Seemingly a rip off of the aforementioned recent theatrical films, The Maze Runner is another in the lineup of movies based on best-sellers, wherein 18-21 year-olds are the only ones who can save an entire civilization from utter destruction. Director Wes Ball and his young cast work very hard to overcome any apprehension or feelings of boredom the audience many have for this quickly proliferated genre of film.
The Maze Runner is about Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, a young man who wakes up to find himself in a strange land populated only by guys. Alby (Aml Ameen) is the leader, who keeps order with steady Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and hot-headed Gally (Will Poulter). The group has only one set of instructions–cooperate and survive. Having a much more curious mind than his counterparts, Thomas is determined to find out how to escape the maze and find out how and why they are trapped. Unfortunately, Thomas is met with constant opposition, mostly from Gally, because he is upsetting the order under which the guys have survived. Quickly proving himself to be courageous and loyal, Thomas must use his curiosity, speed, and ingenuity to escape the dark and sinister ever-changing maze to answer the foreboding question of what lies beyond.
The movie bears a striking resemblance to the plot of Lord of the Flies in that there is no “adult,” although the lead boys are obviously of adult age, supervision. And, these young people must develop their own set of laws and mores in order to continue to survive within the lush glade, that sits in the middle of a maze with walls of incredible height. Nearly an all-male cast, the guys encounter one girl who is sent to them with their last shipment of monthly supplies, who is so underused that she comes across as merely a token gesture to the females who are watching this movie designed for a mostly male audience. Largely unknown performers, the cast is able to pull off this hybrid teen/adult fantasy thriller by making his stock role stand out.
Some of the refreshing aspects to this movie, as compared to its other dystopia film brethren, is the missing element of a love triangle or town elders who barf up needless loads of mythology and narrative exposition thus turning this visual medium into a play. Not that plays and musicals are bad, but they are dialog driven whereas a movie should be visually driven. And, The Maze Runner has visual storytelling down in spades. Many times, it felt like watching a graphic novel on screen. After so many films have essentially lowered the expectations of these young adult movies based on best-sellers, this film tries to make up for where the others fail. This is especially clear when the movie pushes its PG-13 rating by showing the young people dying horrific deaths as a result of madness or the macabre creatures of the labyrinth.
Even though the acting is surprisingly good, for this genre, and it drops the cliche love story subplot, the movie suffers from a horrendous score and terrible sound design. In fact, this “film” looks and sounds more like a SyFy Channel original movie (with better acting, of course) than it does a cinematic release. However, if you can watch the movie in DBox seats, it definitely enhances the experience. One can only hope the sequels to the film will boost production quality (and no, I am not talking about CGI) and create a more cinematic feel to the movie. Moving forward, hopefully the plot will be bolstered by more narrative substance that could achieve the quality of film that this new franchise is capable of. On the plus side, there is a great twist in the end that elicited definite “whoa” response from the audience. Although there were points in the film that were way too cliche and predictable, I am looking forward to see how the subsequent sequels are handled.
If you are looking for something new here, you will not likely find it. However, sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable for a movie to be merely entertaining rather than possessing the ability to aMAZE the audience.