The Maze Runner (2014)

At least one of the characters in this poster is never seen running the maze.
At least one of the characters in this poster image is never seen running the maze.

“Get Ready to Run”

Directed by Wes Ball
Starring  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter and Blake Cooper

Waking in an elevator cage, Thomas (O’Brien) is propelled into the Glade, a community of boys imprisoned in the heart of a vast and shifting maze.

Thomas is immediately a disruptive influence – lead Glader Alby (Ameen) notes that his curiosity marks him out – and clashes with obligatory jerk Gally (Poulter), but supported by Alby, his second in command Newt (Brodie-Sangster, doing his very serious bit again), and previous new-boy Chuck (Cooper), he pushes to be allowed to join the Runners, the boys who map the maze and search for a way out.

Together with lead runner Minho (Lee), Thomas becomes the first to kill one of the Grievers, the monsters of the maze. When a girl, Theresa (Scodelario), arrives in the Glade, the changes begin to create friction, especially with Gally, and when the death of the Griever apparently triggers a retaliatory attack on the Glade the community fractures. Soon, it is clear that there is no choice but to escape, or die trying.

What’s wrong with it?

The opening of the film has a lot to do in terms of info-dumping about the Glade, but its attempt to break this up is rather too reliant on people being enigmatic arseholes. Three people warn Thomas not to enter the maze and he ignores them, but how difficult would it have been for them to add “because it closes at night and is full of death beasts” to their warning?

O’Brien is not quite ready to pull off the visionary leader bit that the film casts him in. It’s obvious why no-one particularly wants to follow Gally at first, he’s a dick, but Thomas doesn’t quite convince.

Theresa is made out to be tough and feisty, but ultimately does very little of consequence besides giving Gally another reason to be angry at shit. In the final run she takes up a knife, but when the older boys urge Chuck to stay back, she immediately pipes up ‘stay close to me’, indicating that she will not be going toe-to-toe with the Grievers.

Surround the girl! Don't let her get screen time!
Surround the girl! Don’t let her get screen time!

The plot also succumbs somewhat to fridge logic once you’re away from the grandeur of the maze. Who built this thing, and why? It clearly wasn’t for the tests; everything looks far too ancient and ivy-covered.

On the subject of the tests, the fuck? How does the maze let you study disease resistance*? What’s up with sending Theresa? The message? Why in God’s name would you develop a test which involves your apparently dead bodies being found by the subjects? Why is this science so… evil?

What’s right with it?

The film looks amazing, from the vast and imposing maze – and almost more impressively, the consistency of the scale – to the hideous fly-spider-scorpion-cyborg Grievers.

The pace is cracking and the actors are good, even if O’Brien isn’t quite there. I’ve had a lot of time for Brodie-Sangster since Feather Boy and the other lads all manage their roles with aplomb. We got to the end of the film and I was genuinely sad to realise that someone I liked was about to be sacrificed.

How bad is it really?

Not at all, really. Together with films like Dracula Untold and HerculesThe Maze Runner represents a shift in my viewing habits away from total crap, as a result of which I find myself reviewing the bad in films I’ve enjoyed as often as the unutterably poor.

I think that the weakness of Theresa as a character is the one unforgivable sin of the movie.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The final stand-off with Gally really ramps the tension up, as you realise that with none of the significant leads killed by the Grievers, someone genuinely sympathetic is about to die.

What’s up with…?

  • The tests? I’m guessing that there is more to this than is suggested, simply because the stated reasons don’t make sense. My supposition is that the story given to them is the set up for phase 2.
  • WCKD? Really; World Catastrophe Killzone Department? Someone really wanted your acronym to be ‘wicked’.
  • ‘Wicked is Good’? This had better turn out to be the ‘Would You Kindly’ of the trilogy.
  • The failure to explain? They’re in the Maze at one point and someone is like ‘Oh, yeah; death beasts. What did you expect?’ and Thomas would be quite within his rights to point out: ‘Well, not death beasts, because surely someone would have mentioned the death beasts!

Ratings

Production values – Oooo… The design and realisation of the maze and the complex are amazing, and even the Grievers manage not to be too CGI. 3
Dialogue and performances – The script has few write-home moments and a little too much reliance on ‘oh, we’ll explain that later’ to build tension, but the dialogue is clear and the characters well distinguished. O’Brien, in all honesty, is caught by the story’s presentation of Thomas, and does pretty well in the circumstances. Scodelario, conversely, is given little to work with, but the other actors make their parts work. 11
Plot and execution – The plot is, overall, pretty straightforward, and the twists are well-timed to keep the pace going. The real problem is the degree to which the film tries to draw out its pacing just by having people not explain things until it is basically far too late. 8
Randomness – I think that ‘wicked’ is my only real gripe here. Everything else is so grounded, and then the science team turns out to pretty much be named after an alcho-pop. 3
Waste of potential – By dropping some of the book’s less tangible elements, the film relegates telepathic Theresa to a token role, but this is probably still second to The Hunger Games in my personal chart of recent teen-oriented adaptations (with which phrase I hope to attain immortality as the encyclopedia definition of ‘damning with faint praise’.) 5

Overall 30%

* I stand ready to withdraw this objection if the explanation offered for the maze tests proves just to be some bullshit designed to lead into the scorch trials.

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