Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: October 10th
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up at the bottom of a lift, with no memory and no idea where he’s going. Emerging into a mysterious woodland environment solely inhabited by fellow teenage boys, he soon learns there is no escape as they are entirely surrounded by a titanic maze, inhabited at night by predatory monsters known as ‘Grievers.’ Certain members of the group, the maze runners, have been exploring and mapping the structure for three years to find a way out, to no avail. After Thomas not only survives a night trapped inside, but kills a Griever, he is swiftly promoted to maze runner, and what ensues shakes the community to its core.
The film is well-paced, and there are some skilfully directed set-pieces, director Wes Ball’s background in art direction most apparent when our heroes are within the maze and negotiating its surrounding areas. The world is visually well-realised and there’s a great sense of space and depth in what the characters call The Glade.
But maybe, with a title like The Maze Runner, it’s not surprising that this film feels a bit… Lost. Which is not to say it lacks direction, it literally recalls the TV phenomenon (ten years old this year) about a bunch of castaways stranded in an unknown, wild environment, threatened by unseen others and inexplicable monsters. There’s even a close-up of Thomas’ eye opening at a pivotal moment, echoing Lost’s famous first shot; and the only girl in the glade, Teresa, is 90% Kate Austen, occasionally spunky but largely coming across no better than a token tagalong.
And this is the main issue with The Maze Runner. By its conclusion, the story has taken so many twists and turns that we find some interesting ideas at the heart of the maze; but the characters so underdeveloped that it’s hard to care about them, or identify them as more than ciphers. There’s an angry one, and a younger one, and a wise leader, and a reluctant hero, but we rarely have any reason to root for them, beyond their mere humanity – we want them to win, just to defeat the non-human Grievers. As new characters are introduced all-too-late in the conclusion, this may be an issue that is resolved in the inevitable sequel (which recently cast Aidan Gillen), but The Maze Runner risks leaning too heavily on its premise to the detriment of its characterisation. And these are some talented young actors – among them Kaya Scodelario of Skins, We’re the Millers’ breakout Will Poulter, and Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster – they deserve more than to go through the motions, rather than in one, non-deviant direction: it might get you out of a maze, but it makes for less than inspiring performances. Oftentimes, it just makes lazy decisions with them too, with old-fashioned ‘women and children first’ attitudes that feel very tired in a world where we also have The Hunger Games.
A fun story with an intriguing cliffhanger, The Maze Runner seems to be an investment for better things to come. Venture in, if you dare… (keep your hands on the sides.)