Film review: The Maze Runner (2014)

Directed by Wes Ball.
Starring Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Aml Meen and Ki Hong Lee.

SYNOPSIS:

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a valley surrounded by other boys, remembering nothing from before this very moment except his name. As Alby (Aml Meen) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) tell him more about this small community living in the centre of a giant foreboding maze, Thomas begins to question his surroundings, endangering himself and those around him as he desperately seeks answers. One comes in the form of a girl, Theresa (Kaya Scodelario), as blank as the rest of them, but sharing Thomas’s inquisitive spirit. In just three days, everything changes. Can they all work together to find a way out of the maze, and what do they plan to do if they do?

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If this sounds a bit like Lord of the Flies meets Ender’s Game (sans the space), that’s because it is. One thing you should know straight off the bat is that the source material behind this movie isn’t original, groundbreaking or indeed in any way enlightening about the human condition. It’ll leave you with more questions than when you started and it’ll bank on the fact you’ll watch the next two movies (because yes, it will be a trilogy, as all teeny dystopias nowadays tend to be) in order to find out anything of import.

That being said, it’s actually worth a watch if you’re into pure character-driven storytelling. While we don’t get to find out too much about the setting in which this giant maze seems to have been erected out of nowhere, why it’s there or what purpose it serves (and what we do find out sounds an awful lot like dystopian propaganda and is therefore not trustworthy), there are several very interesting characters who interact in their most basic form—after all, who are we without our memories?—and the conflicts that arise are rather interesting.

Take Thomas, the inquisitive, reckless hero, who puts himself in harm’s way almost instantly after waking up in the Glade, clashing with Gally (Will Poulter), who’s been a staple of the small community and is very protective of everyone in it. The instinct to run and find an exit versus the instinct to find shelter and survive is a strong, basic conflict, one that the boys spend most of their time trying to resolve. Until the arrival of Theresa, there isn’t much that has changed in over three years—the longest any of them have been in the Glade. Under the leadership of Gally, Newt and Alby, the community has thrived under strict rules and a direct order to never leave the Glade. It is Thomas who is the catalyst, with his foggy memories and his constant drive to run, to find, to question, to seek, who finally breaks that pattern.

Though to what end? As we find out bits and pieces of info about the maze and the mysterious creatures called Grievers who lurk in the chaotic concrete jungle that forms it, we’re left with even more questions than before. Who build this maze? Who put the boys there and sent them food and resources? Why are Thomas and Theresa the catalysts of it all? Is there a way out? Where does it lead? Is it safe? Can anyone even be trusted at all?

We’ll have to wait for part two, The Scorch Trials, for some semblance of answer. Probably.

The major problem with The Maze Runner (in this reviewer’s humble opinion, anyway) is that the dystopia seems to serve no purpose. In The Hunger Games it’s about class and poverty and politics. In Divergent, flawed as the story may be, there is an underlying theme of genetics and science and nature vs nurture. However, from whatever slivers of plot exist in The Maze Runner, there seems to be no point to the bleak surroundings of Thomas and co. Nothing for author James Dashner to build us up for. No allegory or deeper meaning. It’s dark because it sells, and that’s the grimmest dystopia of all.

But I digress.

A slow-building setup to what might become a quite successful franchise, and director Wes Ball’s debut feature film, The Maze Runner does well enough with what it’s given, with some exceptional performances from its emerging cast and a soundtrack by John Paesano that sets the ominous and suspenseful tone masterfully. The cast and crew are certainly something to look out for—Ball does a tremendous job adapting a relatively weak story into a film with potential, filmed in large parts on location to allow the actors to immerse themselves in their characters and their journeys.

Out in the UK on October 10th, you may want to watch out for The Maze Runner.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

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