Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
Directed by: Wes Ball.
Written by: Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin based on the novel by James Dashner.
Starring: Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Aml Ameen (Alby), Ki Hong Lee (Minho), Blake Cooper (Chuck), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Will Poulter (Gally), Dexter Darden  (Frypan), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Chris Sheffield (Ben), Joe Adler (Zart), Alexander Flores (Winston), Jacob Latimore (Jeff), Randall D. Cunningham (Clint), Patricia Clarkson (Ava Paige).

The success of the Twilight, Hunger Games and Divergent movies have ensured that for the next few years anyway, we will see a steady stream of young adult novels make their way to the bigscreen – preferably ones about dystopian societies in which the evil adults try to tell the teenagers what to do, and the heroic teenagers fight back. Its not hard to see why teenagers respond to these novels – and the movies based on them – because they pretty much feel that adults are out to run their lives anyway, and do not understand whats its like for them. Some of these movies – like The Hunger Games – have actually been quite good, but others – like Divergent – have been pretty much horrible. The latest, The Maze Runner, falls somewhere in between. Like the books its based on – and I’ve only read the first installment – it is somewhat frustrating as that even at the end of the first book (and this movie) the audience still doesn’t really know what the hell is going on. As such, the movie almost plays like a pilot episode of a TV series, that sets up a bunch of mysteries that will presumably be resolved at some later date. TV shows can do that – with movies, it feels like kind of a ripoff.

The movie opens with our hero, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) inside an elevator of some sort, moving upwards. He has no idea where he is, why he’s there, or even what his name is. When he arrives at his destination – he’s surrounded by a bunch of boys around his same age (presumably, teenagers, even though most of them look to be in their mid-20s). The groups leader – Alby (Aml Ameen) gives him the lay of the land. They’re in the “Glade” – and they have no idea why, or who put them there. Once a month, the elevator arrives with a new boy and supplies. Everyone in the Glade has a job – they have no room for freeloaders – they are expected to do what they’re told. They have so far found no way out – although everyday they do send “runners” into the large, stone maze at the edge of the Glade, which they assume will be their only way out. Inside that maze are creatures known as “Grievers” – who will kill you if they get the chance. Only runners are allowed inside the maze – and no one can survive inside the maze overnight – at sundown the maze’s doors close, and reopen the next day at sunrise.

Thomas eventually remembers his name – but he also has a few bits and pieces of his memory before his time in the Glade – which no one else seems to have. He is convinced that he needs to go into the Maze – and if he does, he’s convinced he’ll be able to figure out how to get himself, and everyone else, out. He makes some friends – including Chuck (Blake Cooper), the youngest Glader, who worships Thomas, and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) whose main role in the movie is to explain everything to Thomas – and by extension the audience. He also runs afoul of Gally (Will Poulter) – who just wants everything to stay the same – and sees Thomas as a threat to that – something that for Gally is confirmed when the elevator arrives again – much earlier than anticipated – with no supplies, but for the first time ever a girl (Kaya Scodelario), who says Thomas’ name before dropping into a coma, and has a note saying “She’s the last one EVER!”. To Thomas, this means he has to work harder than ever to get them out – to Gally, it means he has to do whatever it takes to keep the rest of the boys in the Glade.

As a movie, The Maze Runner is somewhat frustrating. It spends so much time setting up the Glade, the rules, the various boys and everything else, that the film barely has time to tell a story. The characters are defined in the broadest strokes possible – with everyone seemingly given one character trait, and that’s about it.

I will say that as frustrating of a movie as it as storytelling, the movie generally looks very good. Director Wes Ball, making his debut, has a background in special effects – and yet he doesn’t overdo the CGI. The Glade itself is all practical – an actual set, which is becoming an increasing rarity in movies of this size. The special effects – most notably the Grievers themselves – are well done – even if, for the millionth time, they seem to be another movie monster based on the iconic aliens in Alien and its sequels.

Perhaps The Maze Runner series will get better as it moves along – after a decent opening weekend, they’ve already announced the sequel will come next year. As a movie unto itself, The Maze Runner doesn’t really work – it’s all setup and little payoff. But it does have an interesting hook – so while I cannot say I really liked this movie, I’ll most likely be back for the sequel.

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