As the latest entrant in the never-ending marathon of dystopian themed films, “The Maze Runner” starts out strong but ultimately falters, never quite reaching the finish line.
From little-known director Wes Ball and based on a 2009 novel of the same name by James Dashner, “The Maze Runner” kicks into full-gear with the same formula moviegoers have become familiar with in the years since the release of the first “Hunger Games” film: angsty teens are exposed to horrible situations under a dystopian social system controlled by cold, calculating adults.
The film begins with emaciated Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien (stealing fangirls’ hearts in MTV’s “Teen Wolf” since 2011), being thrust from an elevator known as the Box and into the Glade – a wooded plot of land surrounded by the formidable, vine-covered walls of the Maze.
With no memory of who he or is or why he’s there, Thomas meets the other residents – called “Gladers” – and learns that a new boy arrives each month, and it has been this way since the first boy arrived in the Glade three years prior. In those three years, an all-male social system – a hybrid of William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” and a fraternity gone awry – has emerged, with the strongest and fastest of the boys in the position of Runner – one who daily explores the dangerous and ever-changing corridors of the Maze, which crawls with man-eating, biomechanical insectoids called Grievers.
When Thomas – inquisitive and rebellious by nature – breaks the rules, ventures into the Maze and cleverly kills a Griever in the process, the social order of the Glade begins to unravel, much to the chagrin of Gally (Will Poulter) and his Spock-like eyebrows.
Then, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first girl to ever be in the Glade, arrives with unexplained connections with Thomas and WCKD, the mysterious organization responsible for orchestrating the Maze, and the social order collapses. The estrogen alone was probably enough to throw the boys into frenzy, but suddenly, all four gates connecting the Glade to the Maze are left permanently open. Grievers invade the Gladers’ sanctuary, and the survivors attempt a last chance at escape with Thomas in the lead.
Thomas as a leader is not believable, however. Much like Shailene Woodley in “Divergent,” O’Brien is too frail and too pouty, and his casting as the lead damages the credibility of the film.
Even so, by the time Thomas and company begin their final run, the audience is actually emotionally invested in the characters – the best of which include Chuck (Blake Cooper), who is reminiscent of Chunk from “The Goonies,” and English accented Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who is most notably Jojen Reed from “Game of Thrones”) – but there’s still a lack of character development, even with Thomas. This becomes even more of an issue when the overarching story doesn’t quite pan out.
Let me explain myself.
At the end, WCKD’s reasons for the Maze and the subjugation of the Gladers are revealed, and there was no moment of “OH! That makes a lot of sense.”
The logistics of creating a structure as enormously complex as the Maze is not justified, and given the lack of character development, I was left completely uninterested in waiting for and watching the next installments.
While the big reasons don’t work, the concept of a group of teenagers attempting to escape a deadly maze is still intriguing and entertaining to watch, but, unfortunately, my investment in the story won’t continue beyond the walls of the Maze.
With that said, the Maze is the true star of the film, not O’Brien. (Sorry, fan girls!) The special effects and set pieces used are visually stunning. At moments, the Maze looks like ancient Mayan ruins, and at others, it’s perfectly believable as a dystopian deathtrap in a hopeless future.
The Grievers are equally impressive. One part robot, one part insect and all parts terrifying, the Grievers are some of the best and most disturbing creatures to torture human beings so far in 2014.
Essentially, “The Maze Runner” fails to breathe new life into the rapidly tiring young-adult dystopian action genre, but it also isn’t a complete loss.