Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper
Plot: Kids with amnesia find themselves trapped in a glade, hemmed in by a maze filled with deadly monsters. Do they build a community or risk an escape back home?
As a society, we often cling to the notion that we never judge a book by its cover. It is a good rule to live by, but sadly one that is harder than it looks. In a world crammed with movie after movie being released at the cinema, it becomes much easier to glance at a trailer or perhaps even just a poster and make a snap decision whether you will be watching a film at the cinema, waiting for it on DVD or Netflix or perhaps skipping it altogether. Hell, advertising departments in production companies have the job at playing to our shallow decision-making skills. Young adult movies, and books, suffer the most from this. Fill a film with handsome young actors and we instantly get an impression that it is going to be a shallow affair that is more concerned with a tiresome love triangle than expanding its plot beyond a skin deep exploration. History has proven this a totally silly point of view to have. The Hunger Games has more social and political discussions than most economic dissertations. Divergent boasts a gripping Sci-Fi universe with some grittier scenes that the marketing makes it out to have. Hell, a strong argument could be made that Harry Potter is a young adult series. The Maze Runner is the next in a long line of good movies that threatens to be over-looked due to its young adult origins.
The Maze Runner is helped by a strong, intriguing set-up. A variety of kids, it is never specified but the majority seem to be just leaving their teenage years, find themselves waking up, with no memory, in a lift, rocketing upwards. The lift takes them to a field. Every month, one more child is sent to the surface, complete with supplies to keep them all alive. They have everything they need to build a society and live moderately comfortably. However, if they wish to try and escape their new homes, they have to go through a dizzyingly complex maze that surrounds the field. The maze is only open in the day and rearranges itself at night. No one has ever survived being locked inside the maze over-night due to the horrific Grievers lurking in the shadows. The society of children living on the surface send trained Maze Runners into the maze, their job to spend the few daylight hours they have safe access to the maze, mapping it and trying to figure out where the exit is. Enter Thomas, our hero of the film. The Maze Runners’ world is moderately complex, my summary not even covering the various characters in the story (refreshingly complex for the genre), so the movie’s smartest move is throwing us alongside Thomas, and learning about the universe through his eyes. Thomas is instantly the odd duck of the group, a burning curiosity about their surroundings and why they are here, making him disruptive. While everyone else is dedicated to surviving day by day, Thomas commits to getting out of this nightmare. As he pushes the boundaries of their world, the structure of the Maze changes, forcing the society to adapt, against their will.
We end up with an interesting modern take on the classic film Lord of the Flies, where children are given adult roles and the movie stands back and lets us watch how that evolves throughout the film. The cast do amazingly well, asked to play characters usually given to actors twice their age. Will Poulter is the stand-out, the stubborn antagonist of the show. He clings to the rules he knows and trusts, which slowly begins his descent into villainy, but he is never a person we end up hating. Even the bad guys here are just scared children, forced into a situation beyond their understanding. Aml Ameen plays the society leader, always weighed down by a constant sense of burden. The great thing about the Maze Runner is that the interesting characters never get in the way of the pace of the film. The Maze Runner feels like Hunger Games and Divergent, but with a more immediate sense of fun. The simple set-up means that we don’t have to dance around the main event, building up the world and stakes before having the main course. With the Maze Runner, we are already in it. We are only ever a few scenes away from the next pulse-pounding set of thrills. The movie uses gripping set-pieces to accentuate the characters, arcs only coming alive until they are running through the maze, taking on the horrific Grievers. In fact, you are constantly being surprised at the tone. The body count is shockingly high, the sense of dread is real and the movie never holds back its punches. There is no hand-holding here. The action is also accompanied by a burning mystery. Why are they there? Why is Thomas different? Who made the maze? The entire movie has your mind swimming with questions that you cannot help but stay gripped to the screen, demanding answers to the riddle at the heart of this movie. A lot of the criticism of the Maze Runner came from the fact that the film is open-ended, the start of a trilogy rather than a stand-alone thriller. However, I never saw this as a flaw, enough questions being answered, but with the sting of yet another twist to make you hooked into the series. I will definitely think twice before judging a book by its cover again.
Final Verdict: The Maze Runner is a non-stop thriller with strong characters, a burning mystery and a genuinely dark tone.