Solid franchise legs.
The Maze Runner (2014)
I have a Word document on my computer called “Crap I haven’t been arsed to type up yet” which was starting to get to a worrying length. One of the first entries on there was Young Adult Adaptation #16834-B “Maze Runner, The”. In an effort to prevent the file from getting so large it gains sentience, I decided to tackle it and scratch it off the list. Slight buyer beware on this one. In yet another studio move that teabags the U.K., we get two options when it comes to watching the film. Option A: we can either watch an edited down 12A cut of the film or Option B: we can fuck off. Yep, both the theatrical and home release of the film is the compromised version (EDIT: Since writing this review I’ve learned that there is a 15 rated version of the film available, but it’s an HMV exclusive, which is another practice that can suck all of the dicks.) It’s not the most egregious of examples as there are only about 43 seconds trimmed, but if the uncut versions of films like World War Z and Die Hard 4.0 have taught me anything, it’s that a little can go a long way. As I watched an uncut version, all that changes is that when I say the word “brutal” later on, you’re going to have to mentally edit in the word “fairly” before it if you’re from good ol’ Blighty. Which you probably would anyway, because we’re weirdly uncomfortable with absolute statements without hedging them. Slightly.
The Maze Runner opens on a young man with amnesia (Dylan O’Brien) in a caged box elevator being whisked up to a large patch of woods and grass known as “the Glade”. He soon finds himself surrounded by a group of jeering adolescents and tries to run for it, discovering that the Glade is walled in on all sides by a colossal stone maze. He soon remembers his name is Thomas. Thomas slowly learns about the community he finds himself in, one of the key bits of information being that the maze shuts at night and is populated by mysterious creatures known as “Grievers”. He sets his sights on becoming a “runner”, the only group of people allowed to venture into the maze by day to map the labyrinth and hopefully find a means of escape.
Put simply, The Maze Runner plays out as a mix of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. That’s not to say it hasn’t got any original ideas, I’m just describing the general vibe. Lord of the Flies is the strongest comparison, the group dynamic of Maze Runner owing a lot to William Golding. There’s even a chubby one representing innocence, or whatever the fuck I wrote down in that school essay I did. It’s clear that Thomas is different from the usual monthly additions to the group. There’s more than a touch of destiny about him and blah blah blah. What is it with YA novels and destiny? Surely the best lesson to give to young teens is that they can control their own fate, rather than the notion that everything is predetermined and if you don’t feature in some prophecy etched into a wall somewhere you’re boned? Also the whole “memory loss” thing as a plot device can fuck off. Key points of the film rely on Thomas getting flashes of his past, which looks like the same lab that Wolverine was created in. It’s a lazy shortcut and it grates.
I really liked Dylan O’Brien. He plays Thomas with a quiet intensity that really works. This is not the sort of character that sits idly by and it gives us a good driven lead to get behind. Rumours have it that O’Brien is up for the Spider-Man role in the newly rebooted series and I’d be happy with that. Thomas’ arrival changes things and soon the only female Glader, Theresa (Kaya Scodelario), shows up in the box with a note in her hand reading “She’s the last one. Ever”. Maze Runner avoids the beartrap of having the sole female involved in some sort of love triangle, thankfully. The flip side of this is that she’s not given much else to do. She kind of fades into the background, which is a shame. Also worthy of mention is Son of Rambow‘s Will Poulter as the sort-of antagonist Gally. Unlike most jerks, you can understand where he’s coming from. The status quo has been nothing but fucked since Thomas arrived and it’s easy to see how he’d take umbrage to someone who disturbed the tenuous tranquility of Glade life. Thomas Brodie-Sangster does well as Newt. Newt is a thankless “feed exposition to the hero” role, but Brodie-Sangster takes a boring, functional character and makes him interesting.
The Maze Runner has a decent, intriguing concept. Having not read the books, I wanted to know about the maze, the Grievers and who or what put the Gladers there in the first place. The various reveals and revelations reminded me of the first series of Lost, with all of its compelling mysteries upon mysteries. I understand this is on the lower end of the budget spectrum as it cost about half of what the first Hunger Games did, but the film manages some decent effects and a great sense of scale with the various areas of the huge maze. Maybe it was these two elements that gave the whole thing a bit of a TV feel. In this day and age, that is no bad thing, but something about it just didn’t sell it as particularly cinematic. Not a huge deal as I’ve watched and loved things that were more crappily made than this, just felt it was worth mentioning. The film manages some exciting sequences and some of the Glader deaths are brutal. The maze action especially feels genuinely perilous knowing that the film isn’t pulling punches when it comes to which characters go and stay. I think the script could have done with a lighter touch though. The film can feel joyless at times and it makes all the bleak dialogue seem a little robotic. Sure, it’s not meant to be a trip to Rainbow Town, but touches of humour can really add to rug-pull character deaths and the like.
I liked The Maze Runner. It’s a decent enough start to a franchise that I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of. The sequel bait ending can feel a little unsatisfying, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s a solid film with decent ideas. The sequel has real potential and if delivered on, could be a whole new kind of experience. Recommended.