In the last couple weeks I’ve been seeing a few links to articles marking the tenth anniversary of TV show Lost. I gave up on that show after season one and from what I’ve heard from those who stuck with it, made the right decision. It’s all set-up, introducing mystery after mystery with no pay-off. I mention this now as watching The Maze Runner I was reminded several times of the dissatisfaction that show left me with.
The Maze Runner throws us straight into its dystopian world, opening as a boy awakes in a dark lift being taken up to a woodland clearing, surrounded on all sides by giant concrete walls. He’s greeted by a group of other young men who’ve set up a society of sorts there. None of them can remember anything about the outside world (bar their names) or have any idea why they have been sent here. Soon, our main character Thomas learns that the beyond the walls lies a vast maze, a door to which opens every morning and closes every night. The boys have spent 3 years attempting to map the maze but have found no way out (it changes every night) and know that deadly creatures populate it at night.
The Maze Runner is the latest hit YA adaptation but differentiates itself from many others in a couple of ways. Firstly, and it feels weird to say this about any movie, by being almost entirely male centric. Everyone living in the maze society is a boy, and only one female character later joins them. When she appears, she’s not set up as a romantic interest for anyone (at least not yet, there are more books in the series) and the boys don’t start fighting over her either. In fact the notion of romance is this isolated group of young men is never addressed at all. The film also wisely omits mentioning anyone’s age, I’ve read that they’re supposed to be teens in the book but all, with one exception, look to be in their twenties.
It does still have a fairly boring main character though, Dylan O’Brien doesn’t make much of a case for a potential future leading man. The supporting players are a bit better though, Aml Ameen and Will Poulter will both likely see their profiles rising.
As is the way with these sorts of stories, the routine of the maze world all starts to change when our protagonist arrives, and this is where my frustrations with the film began. The main plot development in the first half completely stems from the boys, primarily Thomas, being idiots. One boy gets ‘stung’ by the creatures (they call the ‘grievers’) during the day, which has never happened before. The infection starts turning him into something more dangerous and, in one of the film’s best scenes, the boys eject him from the glade into the maze. It’s a good moment not just because they’re sending him to his certain death, but because their organisation demonstrates that they’ve clearly performed this ritual many times before.
Later the group’s charismatic leader Alby is also stung while out in the maze with Minho, the head ‘runner’ who maps the maze during the day. There’s a would-be dramatic moment as Minho struggles to carry Ably back before the doors close for the night and seeing they won’t make it in time, Thomas runs out through the closing doors to them. This seems tremendously stupid on both boys’ account. There’s just been a big scene informing us that once someone is stung that’s it. They are done for, they won’t survive. So why on earth is Minho risking his life to bring the doomed Alby back? He would have easily made it if he just left Alby there. And what does Thomas hope to achieve by throwing himself out there? The films sets it up as if he’s motivated by a desire to save the mentor-like Alby (he doesn’t know Minho) but as far as he knows, Alby is already beyond saving. It’s a suicidally moronic move on Thomas’ part.
Of course as the audience we know that Thomas is going to shake things up in the maze rather than die instantly, and the action scenes where he battles the grievers – giant biomechanical spider-monsters – are effectively handled. Indeed one of the movie’s saving graces is how fast paced the whole thing is, it zooms along so quickly that it’s easier to look past all the parts that make no sense (there’s a throwaway line about ‘supplies’, but where are the boys getting machetes and such from?)
Mystery elements are padded on further as they begin to learn new things about their situation. For reasons I won’t divulge, one boy regains some memories from the time before. He offers a couple of cryptic statements but why aren’t the boys pounding him with questions at that point? Surely they’d all want to know whatever they could? Thomas even has a line about how “it doesn’t matter” who they were before. No. It does.
There are a few more enjoyable set-pieces as the film heads toward its conclusion, one big battle scene unfortunately takes place in the dark where we can’t see a great deal but director Wes Ball gets all he can from the film’s modest budget.
Come the conclusion, The Maze Runner offers up a little by way of answers, but nowhere near enough, there’s also one exceptionally ill-thought-out last minute development. The film might as well end with a big TO BE CONTINUED, luckily for it, the sequel’s already in production. If this had flopped, it’d likely be remembered as a Golden Compass-type unsatisfactory coda.