The Maze Runner is a surprisingly engaging entry into the dystopian teen genre
‘The Maze Runner’ is a pretty enjoyable movie, even if the ending is a bit … franchisey.
Ah, the copycat movie. Or copycat book, as the case may be. When there is something popular with readymade sequels (like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter) there’s a rush to discover what the secret formula there was for the success. Was it sexy teens? Dark, brooding settings? Not entirely thought out sci-fi dystopia? There is of course no such perfect formula, but that doesn’t stop moviemakers from trying. The young adult dystopian genre has had its true successes, but also its failures — look at this year’s flop Divergent. That was nearly identical to the Hunger Games concept, but it didn’t draw the numbers. Why? Well, for one, the book wasn’t anywhere close to as popular. It also just seemed to be marketed as yet another in a stream of such genre stories and therefore didn’t really stand out. Something like The LEGO Movie, you remember that. But the same could be said for the unending mindless action movies, which also do not have guaranteed success. For every pandering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doing well, there’s The Expendables 3 bombing utterly and completely. So today’s question becomes: Will this movie break the streak of failure?
The Maze Runner is based on the bestselling novel from author James Dashner and it stands out from the pack of young adult for many reasons. Sure, there’s a primary protagonist, generic white male, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, who is part Irish, Italian, and Spanish), but he’s not the typical boring sort. He’s unusual and curious, not brooding but proactive. The movie starts with a disorienting bang as this mysterious young man finds himself in an elevator speeding to somewhere unknown. When it stops, he finds himself confused and befuddled, surrounded by a group of young men of various ethnic backgrounds in a lovely glen. But he soon discovers that he’s not the only one who’s lost his memory — they all have. And they are all trapped, for unknown reasons, inside a giant maze that is only safe to travel during the day. So Thomas finds himself trying to solve this mystery nobody else has solved, making friends with the leader of the boys, Alby, and young fat kid Chuck. He also makes enemies with tall bully Gally (Will Poulter, whom I remember with fondness from We’re the Millers) because things begin to go quite badly very quickly.
So there’s a mystery to solve and the status quo to challenge. The movie doesn’t answer every question, because the sequel is waiting (of course, the books are already written if you want to read spoilers, which I haven’t). I suppose that’s okay, if a bit eye roll inducing. The boys have a good dynamic with each other, but it gets further complicated when the first ever girl (Kayla Scodelario) appears. Characters here are standard archetypes: the big bully, the British wise kid, the overweight comic relief, the Asian athlete, etc. But although the character types may not be the most interesting, the action is inventive and mostly well shot. The special effects are used well here, showing off the massive maze in a refreshingly dirty, realistic sort of manner. Sometimes the action gets a bit shaky, but in general it was usually decently brutal for a PG-13 movie. Better than the recent Hercules and Expendables movies in a lot of ways, but the story was immediately much more engrossing. The mystery can be deciphered, but it’s not the most obvious, and the holes are put there intentionally.
As for the acting, it was actually quite strong. Dylan O’Brien is a good lead, showing off decent range and good chemistry with the other characters. The tertiary characters are strong too, and the only weak parts trying to build true pathos. The movie can’t quite pull off the final emotional punches, much as it tries. It’s well paced, being a bit under two hours, but it proceeds decently through the mystery, escalating as it goes, although there are a few scenes I think could’ve been shortened. In general, it’s an above average take on this sort of genre. The messages are better than some of the others, this being more about the way complacency can lead to false security and how humanity is better when you think that there’s decency at its core. It’s not dark in its view of humanity even if it’s dark in the events that happen. People die, and people suffer. Sometimes you care and sometimes you don’t, but caring at all about what seems a cynical sort of attempt at cashing in on the latest fad or craze is unique enough that I ended up liking this movie after all.