Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze Runner

Rating

Director
Wes Ball
Screenplay
Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin (Novel: James Dashner)
Length
113 min.
Starring
Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, Patricia Clarkson
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images

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Review
Finding your way in the world requires determination, fortitude and conviction. The Maze Runner blends The Hunger Games with The Lord of the Flies to surprisingly fascinating effect.

Awakening to a poorly lit cage, ascending at great speed, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) tries to grasp at his memories to find a reason for his current predicament but finds his mind fuzzy and empty. He emerges into an enclosed field wherein a tribe of young boys and teens have cobbled together a survivalist society, all of whom have no memories of their pasts, only a vague recollection of their own names.

Thomas tries to break through the wall that isolates his memories, receiving brief flashes of a time before, but nothing of graspable detail. Trying to find his place in this suspicious community, he decides to join a team of Runners who daily bolt into the depths of a large stone maze that surrounds the field. Somewhere on the other end of these ever-changing hallways lies freedom, he’s sure of it. However, mechanical monsters within the maze and intolerant monsters without threaten to thwart any effort he or his companions have of discovering a way out.

As with all teen-targeted dramas, there are easy comparisons to The Hunger Games, the popular dystopian franchise that pits young men and women against each other at the behest of a corrupt government who’s punishing the lower classes for their past rebellion. Here, the dystopian elements are suggested, but remain unrevealed until the film’s final moments, leaving the audience to cope with the interpersonal dynamics of this disparate group of guys.

The adaptation of James Dashner’s novel by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin is at its best when building on the relationships between the boys within the camp. They don’t develop much of the characters there, but provide enough material to give the actors something to latch onto. O’Brien, Aml Ameen as the community’s leader, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as its second-in-command, and Will Poulter as a distrusting rabble-rouser work the material with dexterity and give their characters believable details that help the audience relate and sympathize.

Beyond these four actors, there are three that aren’t able to build anything beyond serviceable. Ki Hong Lee plays the head of the Runners who takes O’Brien under his wing after a surprisingly heroic night in the maze; Blake Cooper plays the boy sent up just prior to Thomas who doesn’t know where his place is, but who seems to want everyone to succeed in spite of that; and Kaya Scodelario as the final new resident sent up in the service shaft and the only female in the entire community. She immediately engenders mistrust with the masculine hierarchy and her quick friendship with Thomas leads to further suspicions in the community. Scodelario doesn’t seem to know what to do with herself in the role, staring blankly at all obstacles in her path and creating an unfortunate comparison to fellow tween star Kristen Stewart. Lee doesn’t have anything important to do and Cooper plays the boisterous buffoon that’s eerily similar to the Chunk in Goonies, but significantly less interesting.

In his feature directing debut, Wes Ball sticks slavishly to the various teen dystopian tropes that have both emboldened and weighed-down the various projects that have emerged since Twilight proved they could be popular. Ball performs like a solid journeyman director, someone who creates competent drama, but never exceeds his station in an even, but undistinguished career. His reluctance to abuse the shaky camera technique that seems to be all the rage these days is a welcome decision.

The Maze Runner is a compelling endeavor trapped inside a genre that hasn’t developed beyond colloquial idealism. It doesn’t have the weighty competence of The Hunger Games, but it has the right mindset and the right temperament to appeal to audiences looking for something lightly entertaining and modestly thought-provoking. It’s the kind of film that sits idly by waiting for better films to come and go while persevering against a marketplace that demands absolute competence and quick adoption to be declared a success. The film’s conclusion suggests something less spectacular awaits in the next feature, but lessons learned in this outing could help make its sequel all the more compelling, or at least enjoyable.
Oscar Prospects
None

Review Written

October 27, 2014

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