Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

Maze Runner (2014)

 

3.5 Stars

The final 10 minutes or so of The Maze Runner is schlock.  Pure schlock.  It ends exactly how you would expect a YA novel adaptation to end–very little resolve, ludicrous explanations, topped off with a healthy dose of deux ex machina. Tune in next year for the inevitable sequel!

But man, everything up to that point is pure gold. The Maze Runner is far better than I expected it to be. It’s probably better than you expected it to be, as well.

Blame the marketers for this one. The Maze Runner was advertised as a riff on The Hunger Games, ala Divergent and the like.  Surprise, surprise: this sci-fi ditty bares little resemblance to Ms. Everdeen’s adventures, save for the dystopian genre and the fact that the source material is a YA novel from the late 2000’s.

The Maze Runner begins with immediate intrigue.  Main man Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up and finds himself being lifted in a cargo elevator.  He has a curious case of amnesia–he can’t remember his name, where he came from, his motives…nothing.  The elevator stops, and he’s greeted by a group of lost boys in a strange green campground.

Thomas learns that his arrival is commonplace–this particular elevator (they call it “the box”) comes up once a month with supplies and a new person (they call them “Greenies”).  Nobody has any idea who’s sending it, nor are they sure why they’ve been exiled here (they call this place “The Glade”).

The first half of The Maze Runner is pure build-up, but don’t let that detract you–these be tasty moments.  Group leader Alby (Aml Ameen) and his right hand man Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) do most of the explaining, letting Thomas know that they’ve built a primitive but effective society within the Glade.  Everyone does their fair share to contribute, and they do their best to live as harmoniously as possible despite their trappings.  Shades of Lost and Lord of the Flies come to mind.

But (as you may have guessed), there’s more to the Glade than grass huts and Boy Scouts. The field they live in is surrounded by a towering maze that opens up during the daytime and closes at night.  They assume that there’s a way out at the end of this maze, but nobody has actually found it yet.

Thomas won’t have any of this, though.  He’s more curious than most of the boys–a real thinker.  He doesn’t accept the fact that they’re trapped, and believes that the community here isn’t doing enough to actually find an escape.

He eventually discovers that they do indeed try.  Every morning the Gladers send out “Maze Runners” to map the labyrinth, and cross their fingers that they return before the gate closes.  If they don’t make it, they’re toast–nobody has actually a survived a night in the maze, as they’re eventually hunted down by deadly and grotesque cyborg tarantulas known as “Grievers.”

I’m not one to admire movie monsters in PG-13 affairs, but the Grievers are just terrifying enough to warrant special mention. Take a Predator and mix it with everyone’s childhood nightmares, and you’ll get an idea as to what I’m talking about.

The Maze Runner wouldn’t be much of a movie if the characters simply sat around and accepted their Neverland, so Thomas unsurprisingly takes things into his own hands and begins looking for a way out.

So what does Thomas find in the maze?  That’s hardly important.  What matters, you see, is what happens in the maze.  And thanks to a great first time effort by director Wes Ball, you’ll be clinging onto the edge of your seat throughout the remainder of this film.

There’s a definitive shift in tone as the movie takes us deeper into the labyrinth, and from here on out The Maze Runner is straight up sci-fi adventure.  If we really get down to it, The Maze Runner owes a lot more to films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park than to The Hunger Games or (shudder) The Giver.  And it’s all the better for it.

Yes, I realize the two movies that I compared The Maze Runner to are both Spielberg films.  And it really wasn’t an accident.  In a way, this film has Spielberg written all over it (though he had absolutely no involvement).  There’s even a token chubby kid ala The Goonies.

But that’s beside the point. What really sets The Maze Runner apart from, well, just about most sci-fi films these days is just how old-fashioned it is.  Look here, I’m not about to go on some ridiculous tirade about how “they don’t make them like they used to” or “old things are always better than new things,” but there’s something to be said about good ol’ fashioned tension.  And The Maze Runner has tension in spades.

Which brings us back to the ending, which is at best simply underwhelming, and at worst, just plain dumb.  The Maze Runner is based off of a trilogy of novels, so there’s no doubt that the people behind this film are banking on a trilogy of movies.  I haven’t read said novels, nor do I really care to.  And I may have enjoyed The Maze Runner for what it is, but I’m not especially excited about the promise of a sequel.  All thanks to an ending full of “blah.”

Honestly though, who cares? As a standalone sci-fi adventure, The Maze Runner is a great time at the movies.  It’s scarier than most horror films, it’s ridiculously compelling, and it features a fantastic multi-cultural cast.  The ending may be poor, but the journey towards it is excellent.  It’s B-Movie mayhem at its very finest, and it probably shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a pulse.

 

 

 

 

 

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