It’s kind of a rough time for the young adult sci-fi/fantasy book adaptation film genre these days. Since the Harry Potter series ended its reign as the dominant force in teen movies (And the highest grossing film franchise, period), the only books that have really gotten both critical and commercial success through adaptations have been The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire. Otherwise, though, it’s mostly been movies that have gotten critical success even if they sucked from a technical level (the Twilight series, the brand-spanking-new Divergent series) or movies that have downright sucked from both a critical and financial perspective.
The latest development in Hollywood’s hopeless churning out of these movies is The Maze Runner, based on a popular book by James Dashner, and judging by the trailer, it looked a little bit more promising than some of the other dreck. The cast looked good, the atmosphere looked very gritty, the special effects looked fabulous, and it had a notable absence of fantastic beasts for emotionless teenage girls to fall in love with. In fact, there was no real romance at all!
So, do we have another young adult classic on our hands?
The Maze Runner
Directed by: Wes Ball
Produced by: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Lee Stollman
Screenplay by: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Genres: Thriller, science fiction, action
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki-hong Lee, Will Poulter, Blake Cooper, Kaya Scodelario
Music by: John Paesano
Plot: Our protagonist, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a creaky elevator with no recollection of who he is, and with no EZ-Listening music to comfort him on the distressing lift. How rude of the people who put him there!…. Whoever they may be. Yes, in addition to not remembering a damn thing about his own backstory, Thomas also cannot remember why he is in the elevator or who put him there.
The elevator ride eventually comes to an end, and he is helped out of it by a group of other boys and young men, who also came out of the same elevator shaft as much as three years ago. These boys, led by Alby (Aml Ameen), live in a peaceful wooded area known to them as the Glade, where they have formed a Lord of the Flies-sque society, except without the infighting and murder (So yeah, not really like Lord of the Flies, I guess). The glade is surrounded by an enormous wall, much too high to climb over, There is an opening, but unfortunately, it leads right into an enormous maze, which appointed runners, led by Minho (Ki-hong Lee) try to map in order to maybe escape from wherever the hell they are. Unfortunately, if the runners happen to be caught outside at night, as there are giant scorpion monsters known as Grievers that murder anything that steps foot in the maze.
Thomas is very anxious to figure out what the hell lies beyond the wall, which causes some tension between him and Gally (Will Poulter), one of the older kids. Things are even further complicated when a girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first girl ever is sent up by the boys’ captors. Despite the fact that it takes a whole day for the boys to actually remember their names after they’re brought up from the elevator, Teresa remembers her name right after she wakes up. Why? Fuck if I know.
See, this movie kind of reminds me of Lost, in that the premise is very interesting and it builds up very nicely, but the payoff is very disappointing. I guess it hurt more in Lost, if only because six years led up to mostly bullshit, but this movie’s ending is also pretty shitty. I’m fine with cliffhanger endings, but come on! Off the top of my head, I can think of the following questions that the movie left unanswered (Spoilers Ahead):
- Like I said, how did Teresa remember her name so soon after her arrival? And why were there no girls before her?
- Why does Griever poison bring back memories of life before the Glade for the boys?
- Why did the scientists need to fake their own deaths?
- Why is Chuck so much younger than the others?
- Why are Thomas and Teresa the favourites of WCKD? And if they were the favourites, why did they get sent up to live amongst the other gladers?
So, yeah, as you might be able to tell, this movie has some pretty damn serious problems. That said, I like it quite a bit more than I thought I would. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I almost loved it! Why is that? Well, apart from the great action and the good special effects in the maze scenes (Even if some of them were very obviously CG) I really, really liked the characters. The lead is played by Dylan O’Brien (Of Teen Wolf fame. The MTV show, not the Michael J. Fox movie), and he’s likable enough. The character of Thomas doesn’t, admittedly, distinguish himself from many other movie heroes (Brave, curious, sense of humour, big fucking whoop)but he’s likable enough, he’s charismatic, and he’s a nice enough vessel for the audience to experience the movie through. It doesn’t hurt that O’Brien is actually a good actor, either.
The supporting cast is really good too, when you consider that it’s mostly a cast of young actors, who can really be hit or miss. Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays Newt and, while it was a little hard for me to look at him and not think “Oh, hey it’s that kid from the worst storyline in Game of Thrones” he does a really, really good job.
Will Poulter is good as Gally too, and succeeds at making him a very likable character, who has his relatively safe, familiar world destroyed by change and opposing ideals and simply can’t bring himself to adapt as well as the others. Hell, I even like the little kid who plated Chuck (Blake Cooper), and I never like little kids!
Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) also turns in a fine performance (Which is good, because her resemblance to Kristen Stewart was causing me irrational fear) even if she doesn’t really do all that much after she sets off a sequence of events, but meh. I’m just happy they didn’t give her a forced love story with Thomas. I guess there’ll be tie for that in the sequels though. Oh, joy.
One last thing I’d like to point out about this movie is that it is dark. Like, super dark. I know that Hunger Games isn’t exactly a damn Care Bears cartoon, and the last few Harry Potter movies made me cry like a pussy, but…You know what, watch the movie until the end. You’ll see what I mean.
Overall: If you’re expecting the next Hunger Games….Don’t. But hey, if you really need to get out to the movie theatre after a dreadful month of August (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding), or if you’re a fan of the genre, you could do a whole lot worse than The Maze Runner.