The Maze Runner (Wes Ball, 2014)
The Maze Runner does something interesting in the current world of YA dystopias: it gives as an actual mystery as opposed to laying everything out at the beginning and then getting on with the plot. (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games.) The shape of the dystopia and the reason for its existence is therefore a part of the mystery of The Maze Runner, and that is a good thing indeed. Of course, it helps to have a compelling story and a number of good actors to help pull it off, as well as a solid director in Wes Ball, turning in his first feature film.
We open with our (temporarily) nameless hero (The Internship‘s Dylan O’Brien) rising in a cage. There’s a wild boar in it with him, restrained. (The wild boar disappears after this scene, unfortunately.) When he gets to the top, he finds out that he is one of many young adults sent here, all of whom lost their memories before coming (remembering one’s name is a rite of passage). All of them live in a place they call the Glade, whose unofficial leader is Alby (The Butler‘s Aml Ameen). Alby shows him the ropes, introduces him to some of the folks, including his second-in-command Newt (Love Actually‘s Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and cautions him not to go past those huge metal doors in the massive wall that surrounds the Glade. Being the inquisitive sort, he immediately becomes fascinated with that big door and the guys who explore the massive maze behind it, known as the Runners.
I’ve seen a good deal of talk about plot holes and the like. I should mention here that while I have been planning on it for a while, I have not read the novel upon which the movie is based, so as you go along reading, don’t think to yourself “oh, that makes sense because he read the book.” (I plan to do so very soon, however.) I assume that a great deal was left out, because that is the way of Hollywood book adaptations, but I thought what was here hung together very well. However, one other thing about this movie that stands out: for being a fast-paced teen sci-fi-thriller type of movie, there are a number of little things here that will require an active viewer; if you’re not paying attention, you could miss a critical piece of information. (Don’t do what I did: listen hard in the first ten or fifteen minutes or you won’t remember half their names. This is synecdochic of the frenzied way information is conveyed in this film.) There is an argument to be made that this is a weakness—especially in a film marketed to the Twilight generation—but I prefer to see it as challenging the audience. Looked at that way, how can it be anything but a strength?
Balancing this is the film’s main weakness. Unfortunately, it’s a large one. When we get to one of the big climactic scenes, in which a major character dies, I realized that while all of these parts are relatively well-written and well-acted, what’s missing is any feeling of camaraderie between these characters; it’s as if they’re all acting in personal-space bubbles, so I couldn’t bring myself to drum up the necessary empathy for said major character kicking the bucket, and nor did I buy the horrified reactions of the others. That was a pretty major blow. (There is also a ridiculous “how the hell did you get here?” scene right on its heels, so the first blow didn’t even have a chance to be mitigated by cool stuff like we’d gotten throughout the rest of the movie before I got double-whammied.) In the end, because of this problem, we end up with a very good, nicely-shot genre film that is worth a watch, but not much more than that. It could have been one for the ages, though. ***