The Maze Runner
Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin (screenplay)
James Dashner (novel)
Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee
September 19th, 2014 (Theatrical)
Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they're all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow "runners" for a shot at escape.
The Maze Runner is a film that thinks you are stupid and should not be trusted with sharp objects or original thoughts and goes out of its way to prevent you from having either. Like a petulant toddler refusing to cut his construction paper along the lines correctly, you are constantly yanked in the right directions and explicitly told every little detail about what is happening as if you are not capable of making even the simplest connections. While there may be an interesting world and story buried in here somewhere, it gets shoved aside and the movie is instead bogged down by too much unneeded dialogue and dull scenes.
For the most part, the plot is interesting and coherent enough to bridge the gap between all those shiny actions scenes in the trailers. It revolves around a group of boys stuck inside a giant four-walled glade that are given monthly supplies along with a new recruit or “greenie” as they call him/her. During the day a slot opens up in the wall and the group sends runners to explore and map out the maze beyond the wall; then at night the doors close and whoever was left on the other side of the door never comes back alive, assumed to be killed by creatures making loud noises in the darkness. It’s an interesting premise and there’s a nice sense of confusion while you’re learning everything that keeps you engaged for a bit. Unfortunately that quickly ends.
Especially compared to similar films, I appreciate the fact that The Maze Runner did not waste time with useless back story prior to the first scene in which the main character, Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien), is brought into the Glade via the mysterious supply elevator. Just like Thomas, who has no recollection of who is he or why he is there, you the viewer are dropped into the world without prior information and it really makes you feel just as lost and confused as he does. The whole scene is a shining example of how to set up a character and tell part of his story in a way that’s more than just dialogue. It’s a really well-shot and creative style that I wish would have remained during the rest of the movie.
Immediately after that, and for the next 70-or-so minutes, is where the film really feels like a slog. Pacing is atrocious thanks to the fact that every event essentially has two segments – 1) Something happens, and 2) Two or more characters sit down and discuss what happened. Everything from a character attacking another character, to that character being punished, to the maze door opening, to a new mysterious character being introduced were broken up with pointless dialogue that explained exactly what happened. And they’re never overly-complicated things either. I get that it’s a young adult movie so there isn’t a ton of room for leaving things open ended, but when you see a main character wake up from being unconscious and then are forced to sit through a scene of a random selection of characters sitting around and talking about it and explaining why it is important instead of trusting that you can put it together yourself, it becomes downright obnoxious.
I have never read The Maze Runner books, but I would eat my hat if these segments aren’t almost word-for-word lifted from the book. They are all taking the most literal way of translating a book to cinema and, instead of using the advantages of filmmaking to tell their story (like in the opening scene), Director Wes Ball leans on dialogue as a crutch for nearly 3/4 of the film. Other than that opening scene and some of the details at the end of the movie, you are never allowed to interpret anything on your own and are always given a quick recap of what just happened on screen in the most blatant and lazily written way possible.
Even the expository blow-your-mind-and-explain-everything dialogue at the end, which I am a huge fan of as I’ve said in previous reviews, gives you some interesting pieces of information to think about then immediately explains them away until essentially announcing “LETS MAKE A SEQUEL!”
The film’s general message of “always question authority” was extremely thin yet beat over your head to the point that it became a joke. The main antagonist, Gally, was clearly representing someone stuck in their ways and refusing to challenge the status quo and the script did nothing to give it any deeper meaning or subtlety. Every line of his was nothing more than yelling about how the group should not dare try and change things, and they should keep going the way they’ve been going. There was no subtlety or shades of gray with his actions or dialogue. Gally and the rest of the inhabitants of the Glade were the same cookie cutter one-dimensional representations of society you can expect in young adult movies following The Hunger Games money train formula.
For a film that relied so heavy on dialogue and uneventful sequences, the action segments were really well done. The visuals were great and the CGI was surprisingly believably considering the weird monstrosities on screen, perhaps aided by the fact that the creatures were almost always shrouded in darkness – but even when they were in the light they still looked great. Basically everything that happened in the maze was exciting and, well shot, and, fun for the most part, even if they did lack any real suspense. A few attempts at trying to build suspense totally failed thanks to “of course he’s not going to die, he’s the main character” syndrome and some eye-rolling cliches but it’s nothing major. My only real complaint with the action scenes was the overabundance of shaky-cam, but I’d chalk that up to following the current trend of how to make a young adult action movie and it doesn’t detract much from the otherwise fun bits of the film.
I’m really just not sure what The Maze Runner is trying to be, and I don’t think it even knows. It’s not particularly suspenseful, unless you consider characters staring off into the middle distance while high-pitched noises shoot in random directions to be suspenseful. It’s hardly an action movie, as almost all the film’s actions takes place at the very end and everywhere else it gets broken up by pointless dialogue between characters, and it’s not much of a character-driven movie as all the characters are the same generic young adult personalities that we’re going to see until this trend mercifully dies. It’s a film that could have been a great action movie with interesting and thought-provoking repercussions, but falls short into the muck of the young adult genre to be quickly forgotten once the sequels run their course.
This was Wes Ball’s feature-length directorial debut, so hopefully within the next two planned sequels he can really find his footing in the world of The Maze Runner and make it into something special, but as it is this first attempt was a loud, boring, long-winded, confused, overbearing mess. Far from the worst movie ever made, and you could definitely do worst in the young adult dystopian genre, but nothing worth going out of your way to see by any means.