US Release Date: 09-19-2014
Directed by: Wes Ball
- Dylan O'Brien, as
- Aml Ameen, as
- Ki Hong Lee, as
- Blake Cooper, as
- Thomas Brodie-Sangster, as
- Will Poulter, as
- Dexter Darden, as
- Kaya Scodelario, as
- Chris Sheffield, as
- Joe Adler, as
- Alexander Flores, as
- Jacob Latimore, as
- Patricia Clarkson as
- Ava Paige
Dylan O'Brien and Will Poulter in The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner is one of those science fiction films that begin with an intriguing set up and leads us through a plot that builds closer and closer to a conclusion that we want very much to see play out. So many questions are presented and we expect answers. The mystery being resolved is the reason we sit through it and want nothing less.
The movie begins with a young man waking in an elevator that comes up from the ground and into a large park looking area with trees and grass. The place is surrounded by extremely tall, solid walls. The only residences are young men roughly his age, who have named their cage, “The Glade.” He soon remembers that his name is Thomas but nothing else. All of the boys have the same case of amnesia.
The boys survive on growing their own food and getting monthly supplies from the elevator. They also get a new member once a month with their supplies. Every morning a giant door in their enclosure opens and stays open until dark, when it closes back up. Beyond the wall is a giant maze that some of the boys, called “maze runners” have been mapping, in an attempt to find a way out. Also in the maze are deadly creatures called Grievers that poison and or kill any boy unfortunate enough to get stuck in the maze after the door has closed.
Thomas begins asking questions but is frustratingly shushed far too often. Of course he wants to explore the maze and he pisses some of the boys off by speaking his mind. Things become a bit more interesting when a girl arrives on the elevator. She also has amnesia but she carries a cryptic note and knows Thomas’s name.
The pace is solid but not great. The movie picks up greatly when Thomas enters the maze. There, Thomas and a maze runner find themselves in a tense battle with a Griever. Things get even more desperate when the Grievers eventually enter the glade.
It is not too hard to figure out that these boys are being tested. Come on, a maze! The big question is why and for what purpose. The movie moves steadily to its conclusion, where we are finally given some but not enough, exposition. As the characters are discovering some details, I kept thinking how none of it made sense. In fact, the more that was exposed, the less it made sense. I left the theater more clueless of what was going on than when I walked in.
The cast of young men do what they can playing classic stereotypes. There is the leader, the hot head, the loyal companion and, of course, the hero. Since we are given no history on any of these men, we can never truly invest in them as individuals. Even one dramatic death, which is telegraphed long before it happens, has little emotional impact. We want these guys to escape only because we want some answers to their situation, not because we truly care about any of them. Unfortunately, those answers never satisfactorily come, leaving The Maze Runner all tease and no follow through. The fact that it ends by introducing the sequel is thoroughly annoying.
Dylan O'Brien and Kaya Scodelario in The Maze Runner.
Eric, from your review it sounds as if you didn't realize that this film was the first in a planned trilogy based on the young-adult series of books by James Dashner. Since I was aware of that fact, I certainly didn't expect the film to end with all the answers. Although I can understand your frustration if the answers are all you wanted since the answers that do come are all deliberately vague and some simply create new questions. However, clearly this was the filmmaker's intent.
Although certain elements of the story are reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, being that it's a group of boys on their own in a wilderness setting, this isn't nearly as weighty a story as that classic. Lord of the Flies, while featuring younger boys, is more adult and serious minded than this rather lightweight piece. The setup also put me in mind of a completely different story and that was the TV series Lost. Like that show, this film tells the story of a group of castaways stuck in a seeming paradise while being surrounded by danger of a mysterious origin. I'm also left to wonder if unlike that series, the sequels will be able to come up with a satisfying enough backstory to explain the elaborate setup. I also wonder if Dashner didn't come up with the initial idea, which is an intriguing one, and then worked backwards to come up with a plausible reason for it all to be happening.
As Eric said, the characters are all pretty thin and most of the boys are indistinguishable in characteristics. Even the girl who shows up offers little in the way of distinct personality. And speaking of the girl, almost no reference to her sex is ever made, despite the fact that she just landed in a camp made up of entirely teenage boys, some of whom haven't seen a girl for 3 years. In fact, sex of any kind is completely absent, including any reference to homosexuality that these boys might have experimented with given their aloneness and raging hormones. Given that the target audience for the books is the 13+ crowd, I didn't expect explicit sex scenes, but the complete absence of even the smallest reference to it is noticeable.
The big problem with this film being "all tease and no follow through" as Eric wrote, is that it runs for nearly 2 hours, which is a difficult amount of running time to fill up with just questions. The setup is intriguing, but I agree that there's too much of it. They didn't need to answer all the questions in this installment but chopping out 30 minutes of the buildup would have reduced the frustration.
While I also agree that because the characters are so thinly developed the danger never evokes an emotional reaction, at least the action scenes are excitingly filmed. The scenes in the maze and the attack on the glade are the action highlights. Only the final death carries any real weight, but as Eric noted, that character's fate is telegraphed well ahead of time.
Given the glut of young adult, dystopian science fiction filling theaters these days, The Maze Runner does little to distinguish itself from the crowd. The premise is just intriguing enough to make me curious to see how it all plays out, but without any great feeling of expectation. Given the film's $340 million international box office based on a bargain basement $34 million budget, at least the future of this series is secure and the answers to the questions this film poses are certain to be answered.
Dylan O'Brien and Aml Ameen in The Maze Runner.
I enjoyed The Maze Runner more than my brothers did, and also more than I enjoyed any of the many other post-apocalyptic, adolescents-struggling-against-oppression, movies that have been cluttering multiplexes around the country for the past half decade or so. I'll take it over The Giver, Divergent, Ender's Game, and the vastly overrated Hunger Games saga anytime. Scott, it's funny that you compared it to Lord of the Flies and Lost because according to the IMDB that's exactly how director Wes Ball originally pitched the idea. You hit that nail on the head. At any rate it's a very intriguing setup that draws the audience in immediately.
I was too caught up in the adventure to be bothered by the film's running time, which is much shorter than any of the bloated Hunger Games. The story is very dark, the body count is quite high and these kids are given no respite from the dangers they face. The cast is good, with several recognizable faces. Will Poulter who was quite funny in We're the Millers shows a more serious side here and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, the little boy from Love Actually, has grown taller but looks pretty much the same as he did in that holiday favorite. Dylan O'Brien gives a solid turn in the lead role (thank god he got the part over Brenton Thwaites).
Eric, I'm curious to know if your opinion would have been different if you had known going in that this was the first movie in a planned trilogy? Since I knew we weren't going to get all the answers to the many questions raised in the film, I wasn't bothered by the cliff-hanger ending and lack of resolution to the story. On the contrary, I'm eager to see what happens to these kids next. I only hope they can keep it as interesting as this first film was.
I did wonder why, over the course of the three years they've been in the Glade, these boys never attempted to construct a ladder tall enough to reach the top of the maze. They have plenty of wood and since they are able to construct other wooden structures they must have some tools at their disposal. But then of course the entire plot would need to be rewritten. Perhaps this issue was dealt with in the books?
Although it didn't make me want to go out and read the books since I think I'll enjoy the films more without knowing what to expect, The Maze Runner is a surprisingly well-made and solidly entertaining entry in the overworked young-adult/science-fiction page to screen genre. In fact it's the only current series in the genre that I'm actually interested in following.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (2014)