Movie Review: ‘The Maze Runner’
Do you like film adaptations of young adult novels? Do you like monsters? How about mazes and a post-apocalyptic dystopian society? Well do I have the movie for you! The Maze Runner is the latest book to film adaptation of a sci-fi YA novel contextualized within a post-apocalyptic society where one teen is the key to everything. After the huge success of The Hunger Games it was only natural that we would get a couple of similar adaptations, and while Maze Runner doesn’t depart too much in tone and setting, it sets itself apart with good results.
Directed with enthusiasm by newcomer Wes Ball, Maze Runner hits all the right sci-fi notes and ends up being a surprisingly decent and enjoyable genre film. One might say that we’re starting to get too many of these book series adaptations but that’s not a bad thing, it all depends on the source. I’m happy we’re getting these post-apocalyptic dystopian society science fiction films instead of adaptations of romance novels that deal with the courtship between supernatural teens. So who cares if it’s an all teen cast in a movie geared towards teens? As long as the story is engaging, I have no qualms with it and if it’s a cool and fun movie, that’s a bonus! I’m happy to report that I got such bonus. With The Maze Runner you get the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who suddenly ends up in a self-sustained society, a place called The Glade, set in the middle of a giant maze with no apparent escape. The Glade is run by other teen boys, none of whom know how or why did they get there, just like Thomas whose presence starts to change their whole dynamic. He represents the audience’s doubts by arriving with no idea of who nor where he is, asking all the questions like why is the maze even there? There surely must be a way out! This ends up being a double edged sword due to the excess of exposition, every major character has a line where they have to explain something like the rules, the setting, what they do there and what their purpose is in their society. This of course comes with the territory, it’s necessary to contextualize us in order to understand but it’s one of those cases where they go overboard with it, pandering to the dumber audience and dragging certain scenes down, but once things kick off it starts to get interesting. Thomas’ curiosity gets things rolling, even though he’s putting the whole Glade in danger, he also kickstarts the quest for a solution, a way out of the maze. This moves the action forward and we get various intense moments that keep you on the edge of your seat.
Suspense and thrills are the main ingredient to one’s enjoyment with this film. It’s not a perfect movie, it’s has a couple of flaws and eye rolling moments, I guess this is the part where the stigma of a Young Adult novel adaptation rears its pimply head. I have no intention to discredit these books but we have various comparisons to go by and it’s pretty much on par with what we’ve gotten in the past. It might not be a heavy presence but there’s still some melodrama, there’s still some teens being teens and making stupid decisions. Production-wise, the dramatic elements could have been handled a little bit better, the biggest misfortune from The Maze Runner is that we don’t have a more charismatic and relatable lead like with Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lawrence, Thomas is just there to ask questions and discover the setting, then to move the plot along and finally to function as a leader. We also have a generic stubborn antagonist who is unsympathetic towards Thomas and is against ever leaving the maze. Even worse is the female counterpart that gave me some serious Kristen Stewart vibes, thankfully she doesn’t get much to do, which maybe is something that’ll disappoint fans of the book and it’s another strike against the film since she’s the only female presence in the whole thing. We do get Patricia Clarkson but it barely counts as she’s in it for like 2 minutes, if Clarkson were the one that wound up in the Glade with the boys it would have been a definite surprise and would have made everything much more unexpected, but that’s just wishful thinking. There are a couple of supporting characters that do manage to keep things fresh and diverse like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) the main maze runner and Alby (Aml Ameen) the Glade’s leader and its first inhabitant.
I’m more grateful that we don’t have any sparkly vampires. What we do get is a bunch of ugly gory monsters called grievers that exist solely to dispose of our heroes. There’s no romantic subplot here and that’s one of the elements that makes this film stand out. It’s a movie more in tune with a horror film (albeit a PG-13 one), kids start dying one by one, they have to fight monsters and race for survival, we don’t get damped by teenage angst nor drama and it’s doesn’t dwell on social political examinations. Sure, we do get a couple of those aspects but it’s more comparable to Lord of the Flies than other YA novels and films. The thing is that the drama is not an appendix to the conflict, instead, the drama is born from within the conflict, so a lot of the actions are justified instead of merely existing due to feelings or teenage misgivings. It’s also notable that the plot doesn’t offer a heavy handed commentary on social issues but it does offer similar moral conflicts, and a more philosophical way of seeing our life as the big picture. Aside from the mere idea of fighting for their lives and justice, they’re also trying to find the truth. With all its mysteries, unanswered questions and secret organizations, it’s almost like Lost, but without the polar bears and the spiritual mumbo jumbo (this is definitely not purgatory). We end up on a journey to seek answers alongside the characters; them by deciphering the maze and us by enjoying our popcorn with this summer-closing film.
Another thing that has also been a signature of these types of films is that they’re part of a series, so you bet you’re going to get more of The Maze Runner’s universe if it becomes successful. It’s a fact that we’re going to get some questions unanswered and some open ended details from the film, I was preparing myself psychologically for some ambiguous cliffhanger but I appreciate that it wasn’t the case. Indeed they do leave some things open for future instalments but 90% of what they presented ended up resolved and with a couple of bonus twists added. It wasn’t just a scene were the characters find a door, open it, and they fade to white. The way they handled it made it sufficiently interesting for me to want what’s next and want to explore more of the world that The Maze Runner has created.