Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is yet another entry in the dystopic young adult genre carving its way through cinemas. This 2014 picture is directed by Wes Ball with an intended sequel set for release in September of 2015. A final film in the series is set for a 2017 release, apparently.
Almost everything about The Maze Runner functions as a set-up. From the Lord of the Flies beginnings to the eventual reveal that features way too much exposition for its own good, it’s hard to chart this movie as all that innovative. But there is a certain craftsmanship to it and some of its concrete issues of teen angst and rebellion are worth exploring.
The film opens with 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) having been dropped via service elevator in an area called the Glade. The place is surrounded by walls and inhabited entirely by young males of a similar age. They have erected a makeshift society, complete with Alby the leader (Aml Ameen) and a group of “runners” that hunt for a way out.
There are Grievers outside, horrible bug-like creatures that roam the maze outside at night. For this reason, the runners have to make it back to the Glade before dark. Thomas grows impatient with the lack of progress and begins to take risks, eventually killing a Griever and discovering an exit. The arrival of a girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) further complicates matters.
The best parts of The Maze Runner involve the young men working through their differences and discovering the rigours of developing a hierarchy of power. While other similar pictures chart this course with more psychological depth, Ball’s film doesn’t spend much time exploring dissension in the ranks. The bigger threats are peripheral and that’s where most of the focus lies.
It’s certainly easy to categorize The Maze Runner among its contemporaries like The Hunger Games series and the Divergent movies. Each set certainly involves the theme of adolescents fighting back against a web of corruption and horror plaited by adults. This is an important projection in modern society and it speaks to palpable, vital concerns for today’s youth as evident in literature and film.
The Maze Runner contends that the agitated youth have been impounded by some sinister organization. Thomas has flashbacks of some sort of personal involvement and Teresa, too, appears in his dreams. They are somehow responsible for the position they find themselves in, but the details are hazy – at least initially.
The inescapable post-apocalyptic explanation follows, with Patricia Clarkson showing up as the leader of an organization called WICKED. WICKED, as they say, is good. Clarkson’s character delineates the hows and whys right in time to set the stage for the sequel. There are fires and there’s a virus. Ho hum.
There are some neat performances in The Maze Runner, but the run-through seems so rudimentary that it’s hard to forge an emotional bond with most of the characters. For all the potent acting O’Brien accomplishes when a certain pal passes on, the audience’s connections with the men and woman of the Glades are a touch on the unsubstantiated side.
Still, there’s enough to the drama to keep things moving. Ball and cinematographer Enrique Chediak work well with the scope of the walls and the size of the labyrinth to plant the desire to see what happens next, while the subtext from the Dashner novels should have enough moral weight to last another two pictures.
The Maze Runner isn’t as effective as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but it does carry more punch than the first film in that series and it is more absorbing than it might seem on the surface. While it doesn’t plunge the depths of these Glade teens as much as it could’ve, it lays enough groundwork to make for an interesting couple of hours.