The Maze Runner | Wes Ball | September 19, 2014
The YA dystopian trend rears its head yet again this year with The Maze Runner, which fits in nicely before The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.
From first-time director Wes Ball and screenwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin, The Maze Runner, adapted from the first novel in James Dashner’s trilogy, follows a large group of teenage boys trapped in a gigantic and ever-changing maze. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame) serves as the protagonist, and we first meet him upon waking up in a freight/supply elevator cage with little idea who he is or what’s going on before he’s unceremoniously welcomed into the group of Gladers living inside the maze. Alby (Aml Ameen) welcomes the curious Greenie (a nickname given to each new member of the tribe), shows him the ropes, and introduces him to some of the other boys – Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Gally (Will Poulter), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and Chuck (Blake Cooper) – before things kick into high gear. The slowly enlarging group has been trapped in the Glade, the center of a large labyrinthine maze, for three years and select members have been running the maze during the day to find a way out, but the walls shift at night and make their search more difficult. However, Thomas’s arrival, curiosity, risk-taking and rule-breaking (which gets him onto the Runner squad) promises to change things for the Gladers – including the arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first young woman and last person sent to the Glade.
Despite this being the first major film for most of those involved, it comes together rather well. All the characters start in the maze in a more or less tabula rasa state, which enables the young actors to shine through and develop their roles. The maze itself is a solid mix of practical (the stunts and acting) and CG (the scale and scope of the whole thing), as are the Grievers, the poisonous mechano-scorpions that roam the maze at night. The plot is more cohesive, urgent, and straight-forward than the source material, which helps propel the film through its nearly 2-hour run time. It ditches the out-of-right-field things, reworks some twists, gets right to the meat of the story, and provides for more character stability. And there is also a pervasive sense of conspiracy, which lays the foundation for the sequel, The Scorch Trials, which is already in the pre-production stages.
But for all the pros, The Maze Runner does have its speed bumps. There are several chaotic scenes, namely a chase in the dark maze and two Griever attacks, which fall back to Bourne-levels of shaky-cam, making it hard to tell exactly what’s going on – even as inconsequential red-shirt Gladers are picked off. And the Griever design – even up close – seems to be more along the lines of a generic scary monster face on a giant robotic scorpion body. Granted, some of this could have been because I was in the extreme front row of an RPX screening. Also, I would have liked more from Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa, as she really comes into play toward the end of the first hour and doesn’t balance out the testosterone of the film. Thankfully, though, all thoughts of romance or a possible love triangle are absent – there’s a maze to escape from while being observed by a group with hidden agendas and chased by terrifying mechano-scorpions.
With films like these, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible – like Thomas – and it helps add to the edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that is The Maze Runner.