Published on September 25th, 2014 | by Dan Gvozden0
THE MAZE RUNNER – REVIEW
It is that time of month again, which means that it is time for another YA book to be adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster. The Maze Runner, based on a book series by James Dasher, is no different than what has come before in substance; it’s set in a dystopian future, everyone looks like a clothing model, the protagonist is destined to change the world, and characters spout silly made-up slang like “the changing”, “grievers”, “gladers”, and “keepers.”
In the past I’ve expressed my contempt for all these quick money-grab adaptations that typically feel like fan service for people who’ve read the books. So many times, I have felt like I am watching a checklist of events that occurred in pages that I have never read instead of a compelling narrative full of characters that I care about based on what is presented on the screen before me.
I’m not sure what was different about The Maze Runner, but I quickly found myself caring for its cast of characters and their unfortunate predicament. Perhaps it was because the film’s lead protagonist, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), was thrust into a new environment, the Glade, with his memories wiped. As such, Thomas served as a wonderful entry point into this new culture and experience. Without memories Thomas couldn’t verbally explain to me why he was someone that I was to care about, he had to demonstrate it.
The Glade turned out to be a Garden of Eden of sorts, full of teenage males who operate and harvest the environment like a commune might. There are strict rules that are not meant to be broken and a well-articulated chain of command, lead by Alby (Aml Ameen) and the militant Gally (Will Poulter). However, there is trouble in paradise. The Glade is surrounded on all sides by a towering maze of walls, blades, ivy, and cavernous holes that only stay open during the day. Getting lost in the maze spells instant death come nightfall and the boys’ purpose is as mysterious as the unseen force that seems to control them.
The fun of The Maze Runner is slowly figuring out how the world it created works, what the rules are, and unraveling all of its secrets. Unlike many of the other dystopian YA adaptations released this year (The Giver, The Hunger Games, Divergent), I felt that The Maze Runner’s setting felt like a lived-in world with a clear idea of how all of its various elements worked together. It felt like a complete puzzle and it left me insanely curious to find out more about what the secret behind everything is.
Even better was that its villains and conflicts between characters felt authentic and made me question even the actions of Thomas. When his actions unleashed horrors into the Glade, that harkened back to the thrills of Jurassic Park, the movie got to be incredibly violent (the PG-13 rating here is surprising) but it also provided enough doubt to question its hero’s motives.
The Maze Runner’s characters, outside of Thomas, aren’t quite as nuanced or interesting and mostly serve to fulfill basic archetypes found in teen movies. The actors do not push the characterizations beyond those basic archetypes either, though it is heartening to see a hint of diversity. Several characters are introduced clearly to induce tears and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) seems inserted only to serve as a love interest with no other obvious narrative purpose.
It is hard to write about The Maze Runner without addressing how well the payoff to the mystery is handled. It would be hard to recommend the film based on its reveal because once the secrets are out the film falls completely apart. Everything is revealed to be complete and utter nonsense and completely arbitrary. Anyone hoping for a satisfying reveal that would justify the previous two hours of expectation and mystery will leave the theater completely unsatisfied and perhaps angry, as I did.
The trick to films like The Maze Runner is that it is incredibly easy to come up with a series of random and mysterious plot elements but it is a whole lot more difficult to make them make sense narratively and thematically. The ending of The Maze Runner is one of the greatest whiplash moments I have ever experienced in a theater, as if the film went from 120 mph to 0 mph in less than a second. It is really too bad because the moments leading to the crash proved to be better, even if just incrementally, than the standard YA fare. Is it too much to ask for a YA adaptation with a story, world, and cast of characters that make sense to me for more than five minutes after I leave the theater? Instead, I am left with a nearly completed puzzle that’s missing the final piece.
The Maze Runner is more fun than the typical YA adaptation but completely falls apart in the final minutes.