Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze Runner (dir. Wes Ball, 2014) – Trapped in a self-sufficient environment, Thomas finds neither memories or a way out.

Verdict

Solid world-building and action in The Maze Runner make up for a questionable ploy that lacks sense and depth.

3/5

Review

In the last decade, young adult survival adventures have swiftly made inroads into both literature and cinema. Joining the ranks is James Dashner’s The Maze Runner, launching into yet another sprawling series, set in a dystopian world of the uncertain future.

The trite plot follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who awakes amnesiac in a self-sufficient boy prison, only known as The Glade. He befriends de facto leader Alby (Aml Ameen), second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and company, who launch into pithy explication to little avail. None of them has come close to escaping for a good three years.

The territory is nothing new as events take a turn with the new kid’s arrival. A fail-safe storyline sees the youths take it upon themselves to lead a revolution, defying an accustomed social system.

As with most survival series, group dynamics pique interest, in this case thematically invoking William Golding’s Lord of the Flies while aligning with real world parallels.

Trust in the regime has visibly diminished. Power struggles fuel paranoia. Amid burgeoning doubt, the heroes dare challenge complacency. The Maze Runner never delves too deep into political allegories. Instead, it sprints past social implications in favour of large action set pieces.

Photo: 20th Century Fox / Ben Rothstein
“Hey, one girl among a gang of boys. Looks like we have a problem of under-representation here…  Just like every movie then.”

With a superficial script reliant on familiar genre conventions, there is no reason to slow down, really. After all, it is really the titular maze that sets this story apart, presenting ample opportunities to impress in the film’s world-building. The soft hum of shifting labyrinths resonates, in juxtaposition to the relative serenity of The Glade. It is an amalgamation of danger and hope, against a false sense of security that feels almost artificial.

These puzzle maps also make great room for palpable peril and thus, engaging action sequences. Thrills ensue in the Runners’ nightly attempt to find their escape route, risking their lives against Grievers (yes, the names are silly), beastly guardians behind the walls.

The mecha-monsters are much less intimidating than the boys’ warnings will have you believe. But some convincing performances upped the stake, proffering real reasons to care for their lives. Aml Ameen and Thomas Brodie-Sangster are the stand outs here, bringing sincere personalities to their archetypal roles.

Photo: 20th Century Fox / Ben Rothstein
“You are… a girl, you say? Sorry, they don’t have many of those in movies.”

It is a real shame that most of the troop overshadow the main duo. Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario both fall prey to the poor screenplay, scant in credibility and complexity. It is a greater letdown for the Skins alumna, who fails to salvage her horribly underdeveloped and sole female lead. Her character could easily have been done without.

Fizzling out with a baffling conclusion that exits the maze and confounds audiences, The Maze Runner leaves few reasons to anticipate The Scorch Trials. There is however a slight benefit of a doubt for optimists. After all, several dyslit franchises like The Hunger Games only truly find its footing in the sequel ahead.

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