Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements and Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, including some Disturbing Images
Directed by: Wes Ball
Written by: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers & T.S. Nowlin
(based on the novel THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner)
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Aml Ameen, Blake Cooper, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Chris Steffield, Joe Adler & Patricia Clarkson
In an overcrowded sea of young adult adaptations, THE MAZE RUNNER sticks out in sheer creativity and dark risks. It’s far from the best film of its type thus far in 2014 (that would be FAULT IN OUR STARS) or the worst (DIVERGENT), but I had a blast watching MAZE RUNNER. Think LORD OF THE FLIES with monsters and a maze, then you’ve pretty much nailed the vibe this movie is throwing at the viewer. The characters aren’t well-developed and the plot is dumb as a rock, but the world the film brings to life and the entertainment value nearly makes up for those flaws.
The story begins with teenage Thomas waking up in a cage-like box rising to the top of a chute. Without a single shred of his memory left (other than his name), Thomas finds himself in a wide open field (The Glade) surrounded by tall iron walls on each side. He’s one of many teenage boys stuck in this structure and learns that a massive maze surrounds them. As if things couldn’t be scary enough already, there are mechanically enhanced monsters (Grievers) lurking within the maze that kill anyone who comes across them. Everything begins to change after Thomas’s arrival and it becomes apparent that time is running out for the boys to escape a horrible death. Thomas must escape from the maze along with the help of those around him, all while with fighting Grievers and battling against the politics of the supposedly civilized Glade colony that also has a savage streak.
As far as carving out an imaginative world, THE MAZE RUNNER is one of the stronger young adult adaptations. The maze looks incredible, along with shifting walls and monsters inhabiting it. The film also gets away with a surprising amount of dark content for a PG-13. There are creatures killing teenagers, violence amongst the Glade community that goes into LORD OF THE FLIES territory, and a surprising revelation near the end that somewhat reminded me of the RESIDENT EVIL films (visually). The spectacle of the entire movie kept me wildly entertained and I can’t ever say that I was bored or even slightly disenchanted with what was on the screen. The film kicks off with a bang and ends on an interesting (also very silly) note that makes me want to see the sequel (SCORCH TRIALS) next year. On a pure popcorn-munching good time level, I really enjoyed MAZE RUNNER and there are certainly far worse young adult adaptations that have been granted a series treatment (involving sparkly vampires and divergents).
The film suffers from bland characters and iffy performances. Most of this actors haven’t done anything too notable before this and their lack of experience shows. Some of the youngest performers are far more annoying than compelling. There’s also a casual use of shaky camera work that can become downright headache-inducing once or twice. It’s not as bad as the first HUNGER GAMES, but it still took away from what might have been amazing sequences. Luckily, most of the intense moments involving rotating maze walls (the blade scene is awesome) and monsters are held in a steady, clear view. As creative and unexpected as the climax is, it’s incredibly ridiculous as well. Nothing up to that point in the film prepared me to buy the ludicrous twists the film plants for the obvious next chapter in the trilogy, complete with a cliffhanging final line that did get a chuckle out of me.
To put it bluntly, THE MAZE RUNNER is a young adult franchise starter with balls. This film tackles an imaginative story in dark ways. Though the plot is pretty ridiculous, I enjoyed it on a sheer spectacle level. Real suspense and adrenaline are given to the viewer, even if it doesn’t fully pay off in the end. As stupid as the last 20 minutes are, I didn’t predict them and I’m sold on watching the sequel (if only for curiosity’s sake). If you want a sci-fi film aimed at teenagers that’s cerebral and covers universal themes, watch THE GIVER. If you want to eat some popcorn, turn your brain off, and have fun, watch MAZE RUNNER. Sometimes, junk food can be as enjoyable as an exquisite dinner. Such is the case with THE MAZE RUNNER.