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New Review: The Maze Runner (2014)
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Blake Cooper, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Dexter Darden, Jacob Latimore, Joe Adler, Chris Sheffield, Thomas Sangster, Patricia Clarkson
Out of all the cinematic adaptations of dystopian-set, YA adventure books, The Maze Runner is perhaps the most frustrating. Here is a movie with very good performances from an attractive young cast, an intriguing premise, and a first hour that is really quite terrific. Unfortunately, once that first hour passes, the movie turns into a murky and chaotic mess. It's depressing to see a movie start off so strong and end on such a lame note, but that's exactly what happens here. In the end, The Maze Runner doesn't leave you with much except a headache and a ton of unanswered questions.
And yet, it all starts off so well. The movie opens with a young man named Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) riding an underground freight elevator to a mysterious place called The Glade, which is located directly in the middle of a giant stone maze. The setting, in a way, calls to mind the book Lord of the Flies: The Glade is populated by teenage boys; they've come up with a set of rules and have even elected a leader; and there's a chubby boy named Chuck (Blake Cooper) who kind-of-sort-of reminded me a little of Piggy (although he doesn't carry a conch around with him).
Thomas has no memory of where he came from, or who put him in the maze and why. It's the same for everyone else there. The only thing they can remember is their name, and that's only after they've been in The Glade for a day. Everyone has an assigned task in the community. There are a handful chosen to be Runners, and their job is to run through the maze and try and find a way out before nightfall, when the maze closes up. "Nobody survives a night in the maze," one boy tells Thomas, and that's due to the fact that the maze becomes infested with deadly metallic creatures known as Grievers.
So far, so good. The movie draws us in with a series of questions we're curious to know the answers to. Who put these kids in The Glade and why? Are they being punished? If so, what for? If not, then what is the purpose of the Grievers, who attack and kill anyone unfortunate to be caught in the maze after dark, and whose stingers seem to turn people crazy? And what is up with those dreams the kids keep having, in which a suspicious female scientist named Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) keeps repeating the words "WCKD is good"?
The final third supplies an answer, if you want to call it that, but the more it's thought about, the less sense it makes. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the so-called "answer" at the end tells you nothing. Character motivations remain either unclear or unexplained, and the dystopian world we see at the end of the movie is never fully explained. At least with movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent, we knew enough about the world their stories inhabited to know what the characters wanted, and what was at risk. At the end of The Maze Runner, I wasn't even sure if I understood the whole purpose of the maze, although I know it has something to do with a deadly virus.
However, having an unsatisfying finale is not this movie's greatest sin. As an action spectacle, the movie is underwhelming. Yes, the visual effects used to create the maze are stunning (there's one exciting scene where Thomas and Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the leader of the Runners, have to escape the maze as it starts to close up on them), and yes, the Grievers are well-animated and at times quite scary. It's the action scenes that don't work. First time director Wes Ball has most of the big set-pieces take place at night, in murky darkness, and films each set-piece in shaky camera shots which render much of the action impossible to follow.
It's really quite annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as the character Gally (Will Poulter). This kid has been written for one purpose and one purpose only: To be wrong for the entire movie. When Thomas boldly ventures into the maze to rescue Minho and Alby (Aml Ameen), the leader of the tribe, just seconds before the maze closes up, his first thought is to punish Thomas because it was against the rules for him to enter the maze after dark. He grows even more aggressive with Thomas when it's learned that Thomas actually killed one of the Grievers while trapped inside the maze. There's even a scene where he pops out of nowhere with a gun in his hand to try and stop our heroes from successfully escaping. It's really quite maddening, and what's worse is that he has you pulling at your hair in frustration long before that point comes.
It seems almost like a waste of time to mention that a young woman named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) eventually enters The Glade, seeing as how the movie does nothing interesting with her, and she pretty much fades into the background during most of the big set-pieces. All we know about her is that she and Thomas seem to have a past together, although the nature of their past will remain unsaid in this review. Scodelario is fine in the role, which makes it all the more disappointing that the movie doesn't do enough with her.
The end of the movie leaves the door open for a sequel, and given how this movie is based on the first in a trilogy of books written by James Dashner, you can be sure that Hollywood is already preparing their adaptation for the second book. Maybe the future installments will make better sense of things, or maybe one just needs to be familiar with the source material in order to make sense of the story (which shouldn't be a requirement for movies based on books). However, The Maze Runner is such an infuriating experience that I'm not sure if I even care to see the future installments. After all, if a group of filmmakers manage to botch the first movie in a planned franchise, what's there to look forward to if the same people stayed involved?
Rated PG-13 for violence, scary images, and some profanity
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on The Maze Runner (2014) :D
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