The Maze Runner Review
BUT STILL A STRONG ENDEAVOR
The past several years have seen a plethora of Teen (Or Young Adult) novels adapted for the silver screen. The Twilight franchise, of course, was the big one (spanning four lucrative movies) that paved the way for others like to follow suit and make the jump from page to screen. What followed after the Twilight movies was a string of mediocre adapted teen films such as Beautiful Creatures, Vampire Academy, The Host, and City of Bones. Then the market switched, ditching the paranormal world of vampires, werewolves, and demons for tales of dystopian futures. Book series such as The Hunger Games and Divergent revamped interest in YA adapted films and turn a big profit at the movie box office. Now, with a heightened interest, 20th Century Fox debuts the first book in James Dashner’s popular YA series titled The Maze Runner. Does the movie measure up to its dystopian predecessors or does it get lost in its own maze?
Waking up in a rising elevator with no recollection of his past, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) find himself in a new environment; a society made up of young boys and their grassy village called “The Glade”. Thomas soon discovers through the boy’s leader Alby (Aml Ameen) and a fellow boy named Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) that the Glade is set in the heart of a giant ever-changing maze and that they, much like Thomas, were unwillingly dumped here with no memory of their past. Nobody seems to know why they are there or the meaning behind the maze itself, or even how to escape it. Thomas also learn that some of the boys, nicknamed “Runners” explore the maze during the day, but return before nightfall when the menacing creatures called “Grievers” roam the maze’s desolate labyrinth. With a hardened determination, Thomas slowly remember his shadowy past and begins to unlocks the mystery behind the maze, but also begins to unravel the somewhat tranquil peace the boys have with the maze itself; placing everyone in danger and ultimately changing their world forever.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As mentioned above, The Maze Runner was adapted from James Dashner’s book of the same name. Like many out there, I read the book before going into the movie. Its source material detours from the path that similar dystopian stories follow like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but still keeps a sense of familiarity to those stories while watching this movie. Naturally, you liked both of those books and / or the movies, then The Maze Runner will be to your liking. It’s more gear towards males, offering little romance plot devices and instead thrust viewers into thick of a pseudo “Lord of the Flies” premise with the dozens of boys building a small society in their maze environment. Personally, I read the books and was interested to see the movie when it came out. After viewing it, I left mostly satisfied with the end result, but not tremendously satisfied.
Wes Ball, mostly known for being a graphic artist and for directing several short films, makes his feature length directorial debut with The Maze Runner. Ball does a good job in crafting adapting a popular book into a two hour movie with a relatively unknown cast and on a limited budget ($34 million). The overall tone of the film is dark, much more than any previous adapted YA film (Keeping with the tone of the book). Lighthearted scenes are sparse with visceral action and thematically heavy sequences pervading majority of the movie. There are some changes from book to film, but only minor ones and nothing I found overtly splitting hairs over. The main problem of the film is the time spent on exposition. During the movie, characters spend way too much time explaining things (Who, what where, when, why, and how), making the process of discovery and understand the movie’s world a chore rather than an entertainment. Another problem is the camera working at various points with jarring and blurry movements on-screen. It’s a distraction to the eye and becomes a little annoying.
In terms of acting, the cast for The Maze Runner is generally favorable and well-casted, which is a surprise, given the fact that most of them are unknown. Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will automatically recognize Thomas Brodie-Sangster as knowledgeable Newt as a notable standout as well as Will Poulter, famous for Son of Rambow and We’re the Millers, in the role of Gally, boy in the group who distrusts Thomas from the moment he arrives. Dylan O’Brian’s Thomas, the central character in the movie, is good in a sense. The role, given the fact that character can’t remember his past and thrown into a new environment, doesn’t require that much to exhibit greats depth beyond shock and fear and exposition points. For the most part, O’Brian gets the job done and will probably get to grow into the character more in the movie that follow this one. The rest of the kids in group give good performances, portraying and/or evoking hopes and fears in a naturalistic approach. The only gripe I have is with Kaya Scodelario’s character Teresa, a mysterious girl who shows up at “The Glade” halfway through the movie. It’s not so much of the character itself, but more with actress. Scoderlario is just seems unconvincing as Teresa.
Of course, the highlight of the feature is the maze itself. It’s big, and menacing, and sense of eerie foreboding every time the characters enter its pathways. The Grievers, the creatures that dwell in the maze, look scary and impressive, though mostly shown in the shadows. Like many trilogies or novel series out there, the finale of the first installment (For most part) isn’t that clearly defined of bring closure, often introducing threads that lead into its inevitable sequel or next installment. The Maze Runner does that in the book as well as the film, but the film spends too much time devoted making it so obvious and elongated that the wears out the dramatic shock to it all. As a narrative, it’s a good ending, but cinematically, it’s overstuffed with too many (endings) and doesn’t quite offer a deserving “payoff” as it was intending.
“It’s now time to begin phase two.” is the last line of the movie before credits begin to roll, notion towards its sequel film The Scorch Trials, which has been already green-lit and set for September of next year. Wes Ball’s The Maze Runner is not a perfect movie, but a justly undertaking and proved itself to be better than most of the previous YA adapted films in recent years. Fans of the book will probably enjoy the movie, while non-readers might have mixed reviews. Personally, I thought it was a good start to a movie trilogy (Or a series depending if they include prequel novel or stretch the last into a two-part film endeavor). With room to improve in certain areas, the next sequential installments can elevate this dystopian tale from good to great with the potential to spark a lucrative movie franchise in the process.