By: Kevin Jordan
Only missing David Bowie.
I hope the fad of Hollywood turning Young Adult (YA) books into movies never ends. It’s a never-ending source of dystopian futures, vampires, werewolves, witches, idyllic (and impossible) teen romances, teen angst, and the continued insistence that junior high kids are actually “young adults” and not “older children, most of who have entered that phase where they hate their parents and their parents have fantasized strangling them with their stupid skinny jeans.” If you think I’m being sarcastic, well, I am – but not for the reason you think. The fact that the film rights to the books are being snatched up by the dozen means that more of them will be written and I love books. It also means that we get excellent adaptations of phenomenal books like The Hunger Game and equally abysmal adaptations like Beautiful Creatures, Vampire Academy, The Mortal Instruments, and I am Number Four (I actually enjoyed two of those, though wouldn’t defend them as good movies – I’ll leave you to guess at which two). The sarcasm is pointed at the supernatural themed books, which really have oversaturated the genre and many of which we could all do without. While it’s true that they provide great fodder for my reviews, they have gotten incredibly redundant and completely uncreative. So, let’s all give Stephenie Meyer a round of applause for writing one decent book and three crappy books and Summit Entertainment for turning those books into one okay movie and four increasingly bad sequels that inspired a legion of writers and studios to emulate them with a lot of hastily written crap and even worse film adaptations. Seriously, clap – they make some of my reviews really easy (and fun) to write.
In all fairness, I get that a lot of children like those supernatural books, regardless of how poorly they are written. For some reason besides good storytelling, they can’t get enough of them and I’m okay with that. The books that interest me the most are the dystopian future, action/thrillers, or science fiction books and, yes, there are plenty of those that are just as poorly written. This brings me to our subject movie, The Maze Runner – another dystopian future (or post-apocalypse, if you like) book and also one that I haven’t read yet. I’ll find out soon enough if the book is worth reading (it’s next on my list), but the only thing I knew about it prior to watching the film is that a teenager was going to run through a maze. This actually fit will into my current philosophy of having zero expectations going the slate of fall movies. Having said that, my expectations were actually set pretty low considering the recent spate of shitty YA adaptations. And, no, I didn’t see The Fault in Our Stars. Whatever.
Considering my cynicism of YA movies, you should know that I had to make a choice to screen The Maze Runner or A Walk Among the Tombstones (the latest Liam-Neeson-kicks-everyone’s-ass movie) because they were screening at the same time. I chose the former because (1) I’ve loved mazes and labyrinths since I was little kid and (2) the floor and ceiling of a YA adaptation is much further apart than a Neeson action flick. While I’m sure the Neeson flick was probably decent, I’m happy to say that The Maze Runner far exceeded my undeservedly low expectations.
The Maze Runner begins by showing us our main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), waking up in an ascending elevator with amnesia. When the elevator stops, he is greeted by a group of young men in the center of a glade surrounded by giant stone walls. They explain to him that they all have amnesia as well, though can still remember their names. They also tell him that for three years, a new boy has risen in the elevator (along with supplies) once a month and that the walls form the center of an enormous maze. For those three years, they have sent runners through the maze to find a way out, but still have not found the exit, that the maze entrance opens every morning and closes every night, and that nobody has ever survived a night in the maze. As we meet various characters of the group, you can see similarities to Lord of the Flies, though nobody is going to drop a boulder on fat and nerdy Chuck (Blake Cooper). Thomas has an immediate interest in the maze, as do we, but the film makes us wait awhile before we actually get to see more than just the entrance from the glade. Like Thomas, we have to be patient and that means sitting through explanations of their little society while they simply tell us things about the maze. After a little while, the movie picks it up a notch when one of the runners come back “stung.” We later find out that the sting was from a griever – a thing that turns out to be some kind of cybernetic spider – and the runner is infected with some kind of disease. The leader of the group, Alby (Aml Ameen) goes into the maze the next day, is also stung, and Thomas runs in to help him (and Minho – Ki Hong Lee), as the entrance is closing. Finally, we get to see the maze and it’s almost worth the wait.
In this first real look at the maze, we meet a griever and see some of the layout first hand. If you are expecting anything even remotely as imaginative as the Labyrinth, you will be very disappointed. There are walls and vines, but you don’t get to see any of the shifting walls and passages that the boys mentioned earlier, there is no Bog of Eternal Stench, and David Bowie is nowhere to be found. Obviously, Thomas and friends will survive the night (and the griever) or this would be a very short and pointless movie. When they return to the glade the next morning, more things go wrong, the first girl shows up (Teresa – Kaya Scodelario), they go back into the maze a couple more times, the big why is revealed and we are left hanging because of course this is the first book in the trilogy.
For me, I was both pleased and disappointed in the film. I was disappointed because I really wanted the maze to be more than what it turned out to be. It’s worth noting that (in the movie at least) the maze almost doesn’t matter, which might actually explain why it ended up being so vanilla. It’s also very inconsistent – they tell us that the maze changes every night, but then show us a complete map of the maze created by the runners. They tell us that nobody has ever survived an encounter with a griever, yet are well familiar with their stings and their aftermaths. When they reveal the reason why the boys were put in the maze in the first place, you will question why the grievers exist at all. I’m sure the book has a lot more detail and the sequels will answer more questions, but it seems like maze was given far too little attention.
On the flip side, I was pleased because the movie did a very good job of building an intriguing story with intriguing questions and then answering some of those questions. It flows really well and develops the characters through the dynamics of the group. They also tell you about the larger world outside the maze and fit everything you see into that world by the end of the film. In fact, if you saw Divergent, you know exactly what I’m talking about – Divergent refuses to even acknowledge the bigger world (at least until book 3) and makes you wonder why you should care about anything that is going on. The Maze Runner does exactly the opposite – you will care about the characters and what happens to them, even poor Piggy, er, I mean Chuck.
Rating: I’m as surprised as you that this movie is worth your money. It’s no Hunger Games or Labyrinth, but it’s at least in the ball park.