Maze Runner, The

Reviewed By Daniel Kelly
Posted 10/19/14 03:00:18

"YA with a dash of genre infliction"
3 stars (Average)

The YA fiction boom must now be reaching crisis point, a meltdown is seemingly imminent. In 2014 one cannot take a bus without being reminded of cancer addled heroines, who in their hopeless dystopic futures represent humanity's sole salvation. Such texts are probably regarded as 2014's most prominent handbag accessory. John Green is the new John Grisham. Cinema has been deeply afflicted by the trend, and whilst there have been a handful of oases amid the dreck (last year's “Hunger Games” sequel was a cosy achievement), by and large the going's been tough. “The Maze Runner” is the latest example of this ignoble canon, dragged kicking and screaming to the screen from a 2009 best-seller by author James Dashner. I am tempted to suggest this is much to the chagrin of all, but in truth, Dashner's saga has proven popular and the box-office reception of the picture strong enough to convey a hungry audience. I haven't read the book (it might in fact be very good), but my infuriating need to constantly expose myself to this underwhelming sub-genre has left me bitter, tired and impartial. I no longer fear disappointment, but actively embrace it as inevitable. Perhaps this is why “The Maze Runner” left me moderately satisfied, or maybe it's just that the feature is a capable little thriller on its own terms. Either way, “The Maze Runner” benefits from a handful of well directed action asides and pays some attention to tested literary traditions.

Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, America's #1 Logan Lerman lookalike!) awakens in the Glade, a small community of teenage boys sandwiched within an almighty maze. None of the boys know why they're there, only that the Maze is a lethal and ever-changing death-trap, filled with beasties known as Grievers. A small, athletic number of residents are permitted to explore the Maze, searching for a way out, but have thus far been luckless. The rest maintain the agricultural requirements of life in the Glade, only half-invested in discovering what lies beyond their vast prison. After a mishap sees Thomas trapped in the Glade with “Runner” Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the pair dodge death and begin to uncover clues, leaving Gally (Will Poulter) and numerous others unsettled by the potential of escape. The unrest is exacerbated by the arrival of Theresa (Kaya Scodelario), a girl in possession of an ominous message and shared history with Thomas.

Nearly all of what tickles about Wes Ball's film can be found in its intermittent, but assuredly implemented genre slant. “The Maze Runner” is a different sort of PG-13 than say “Divergent”. The stakes higher, the deaths are felt and the circumstance is fundamentally scary. It recalls William Golding's “Lord of the Flies, which is a difficult literary parallel to sustain in a genre that takes its vampires sparkling. Golding's novel is infinitely more savage and brutal than what's on show here, the inherent cruelty of man is barely touched upon, but “The Maze Runner” doesn't fail to highlight the incendiary struggles that tend to erupt amongst groups of young males. The attempts to wrestle with these ideas are welcome, and lead to a host of agreeable performances. Nearly everybody plays scared and confused well (obvious maybe, but important), and a few excel. Will Pouter (the goofy kid from “We're the Millers”) does good work playing the conflicted Gally, a character frightened to chance change, determined to protect himself and others through routine. “The Maze Runner” takes him on an intriguing journey, and even if lead O'Brien is saddled with broad moments of revelation, at least lived-in supporting figures like Gally keep the group dynamic on a knife-edge.

Ball does a solid job with the action, and mixes digital and practical effects slickly. Nothing on show is radical, and one might even argue the maze interiors are less varied and interesting than desirable, but the insect inspired Grievers feel like worthy adversaries, the sort of laboratory born nightmares that could keep a group of secluded youths from sleeping easily at night. As the monsters rear their heads more regularly, they lose some of their punch, but in the early sections ooze menace, syncing nicely with the moodily-lit maze they dominate.

The screenplay is initially saturated with expository exchanges, the screenplay extolling the rules and logic of the world with zero creativity. “The Maze Runner” tells before it shows, which does the pacing no favours, and causes the property to emanate a stale scent early on. Before we get to know anybody, or explore the world of the Glade, the viewer must be prepared to suffer through a quarter hour of dryly recited back-story. Thankfully the movie recovers and adopts a sprightly, entertaining approach to its story, but the early portions promise a significantly duller experience than is actually delivered. The learning process is so much more rewarding when seen through the eyes of a “Runner”, Ball able to imbue his labyrinth with necessary scale and the action with the momentum required to honour the picture's titular pastime. Best to suck up the “explain it to me like a Labrador” dialogue that diffuses like a sour fart across the feature's opening crescendo, and hold tight for the excitable aftermath.

One would think the inclusion of an attractive woman into a community of teenage boys might throw a few curveballs, but beyond inciting further plot-oriented paranoia, Scodelario's character performs no function. I suppose that too marks something of an annoyance, teen sexuality can be a powerful time-bomb, but the perimeters of the quest at hand have perhaps too rigidly been established by the time Theresa arrives. Ball and his writers certainly show no real passion for the character, although maybe sequels will open up the hormonal cookie-jar. For now, it's monsters, labyrinths and rough boyish behaviour, “Lord of the Flies” for dummies. Still, it harbours a grittier faculty than expected, and for that alone, “The Maze Runner” deserves more credit than pathetic snobs cum cynics like me are liable to admit. [B-]

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