It seems like we get a new Young Adult novel adaptation every month. Some, like The Hunger Games and The Giver, have been really great. Others, like Divergent, have only been so-so. Then, you have the disastrous Beautiful Creatures and Mortal Instruments. In this world of “what’s the next big franchise”, I think we have found one that has a lot of promise and could potentially lead to some great sequels. Still, the focus should always be on standalone movies, instead of setting up sequels. Unfortunately, we have yet to all films take that advice.
An elevator shaft is steadily climbing to an unknown surface, as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is just waking up from having odd visions. He has no recollection of what happened to him and when the elevator reaches the surface, a few dozen young boys are staring down at him. Immediately, Thomas is lifted out by the leader of these boys, Alby (Aml Ameen), and is helped in terms of remembering who he is. Shocked by this new reality, Thomas attempts to run from the group, only to trip and fall and realize where he is. Surrounding him on all sides are giant walls that seem to provide no escape. In the center of the walls is what’s called “The Glade”, where these young boys live in their own small community.
As Thomas quickly learns from Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), the second in command, none of them can remember anything before they got here and everyone has to do their own part. Behind that walls is a labyrinth that changes every day and Thomas must never go in there, according to the rule-maker Gally (Will Poulter). The only ones permitted to go into the maze are runners and when Thomas goes in to save Alby, things start changing. First, a girl by the name of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives from the elevator shaft, then creatures only known as “grievers” begin to try to attack. Thomas is more curious than everyone else and he thinks that he could be the key to making it out of the maze, but it won’t be nearly as easy as he thinks. The real question is: why are they there and who put them there?
The Maze Runner is yet another YA novel that’s found itself getting the big screen treatment and it’s just different and interesting enough to separate itself from others of its genre. I went in with absolutely know clue what this film was about (never caught a trailer for it, which is rare for me) and I left the theater pleasantly surprised. It’s clear that the premise for this film is almost an amalgamation of a bunch of other novels and films, but it has this level of intrigue and suspense around it that always kept me guessing and engrossed in its story.
Dylan O’Brien, a relatively new name to your average film-goer, is known for his role on Teen Wolf and he did an astounding job carrying this film on his shoulders. The level of authenticity his character has greatly helps us imagine what his new world is like and we’re left with a sense of urgency as his character grows more curious. He isn’t the natural leader, but he assumes the roles he needs to in order to find out more about where these guys are. O’Brien puts some great emotion into his character, which definitely makes us understand him and what he’s going through. He’s such a likable character and his chemistry is spot-on with all the other characters.
Aside from O’Brien, there are a number of awesome supporting characters that do their part in getting across just how desperate they are to get out. Will Poulter expertly plays the part of the brutish leader who sticks by his rules and is opposed to change. He’s bigger than most there and he’s a total hardass, but his experiences give him a right to be. Thomas Brodie-Sangster drops that Love Actually charm and hardens himself here, but he’s still a nice leader that understands how to run their civilization. Aml Ameen’s Alby was equally mysterious as he was stern, which clues us in to just how long he’d been here and what all he’s seen. Even Blake Cooper does a great job, as he gives us a lonely young boy that also would play the part of Piggy (more on that below) well. Together, they each offer up some new way to view their situation and their range of emotions is very telling of what their lives are really like.
Director Wes Ball has a really fantastic eye in this film, as his direction follows exactly what the audience needs to see. He never reveals too much, but he has us infer as we get long looks at the characters and how they react to certain words, or events. His focus on the characters allows us to take in just how big this world is and how confusing it can be too. There’s certainly a Lord of the Flies meets Lost by way of a fallout on Earth, and I admired how well all of these elements worked together. The story is easy to follow and it’s certainly engaging, but you never really know everything. While that was frustrating at first, I found myself enjoying the fact that there’s more to uncover about this series and that made me look forward to the sequel, something that first-of films rarely do.
For all of its successes, this film isn’t without its faults and it suffers from many of the same things that other YA films do. Even at almost two-hours, this film definitely plows through some important relationships, plot details, and mystery that the book would have had more time to explain. Things move really fast in this world which is awesome pace-wise, but frustrating on a separate level. The character of Teresa shows up towards the end and there is so much backstory and information that we never get from her, because a million other things are happening at the same time. Given what we learn about her, she’s not a throwaway character, but she doesn’t do much here to contribute/standout. Other than that, the writing is evident of an unsure writer, as it can go from great to bland in a matter of sentences.
The Maze Runner does a fine job of setting up another dystopian world for people to become lost in, just as the characters are lost in their own minds and within the maze. The characters, the direction, and the underlying themes/mysteries make this world so refreshing and it’s clear that this is a franchise that I’d love to revisit. This film is not without its faults, but it does enough well to get me on its side and eager for what comes next. This franchise does have some catching up to do, but it certainly has the potential to make a definite mark among the competition. Were it my money, I’d give this film a try to maybe even pick up the novel if you’re as interested in this world as I am.
The Maze Runner Trailer