“The first thirty minutes write a check the following ninety can’t cash. And then at the end, it blows up the bank.”
by Ken B.
Is it possible to say The Maze Runner is guilty of false advertising within itself? The first thirty minutes write a check the following ninety can’t cash. And then at the end, it blows up the bank. It hurts to write this down, because this is a movie with excellent technical credits and great acting from its entire cast, but the screenplay, based on James Dashner’s 2007 novel, works on a slow downward decline, starting high but ending sloppily and ambiguously, because franchises, man, franchises.
The Maze Runner begins in a very exciting way. A teenage boy (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a rickety elevator, with no idea of who or where he is. The elevator stops and opens, and standing around him outside are a bunch of other guys, who know more about this than him. Once he gets out, he is in a large open field, surrounded by four sky-high walls. The leader, Alby (Aml Ameen), tells him that they all got here the same way, one by one. Soon, they remembered their name, and every month, like clockwork, the elevator brings up a new member and a set of supplies for them to live off of. Our protagonist finally remembers his name (it’s Thomas) when an authoritarian bully named Gally (Will Poulter) literally knocks the memories loose later that day.
The field is called The Glade, and its residents are called Gladers. The walls around it are part of a vast and extremely dangerous maze, of which this is the center. This is a sturdy society – everyone has a part to play in order to ensure the best odds of survival. The most athletically adept Gladers are deemed “Runners”, and they go into the maze and scout out possible ways to escape. They have to get back before sundown each day, as the walls to the labyrinth slam shut, and inside, lethal monsters called Grievers are unleashed (give credit to the prop department: They look amazingly horrific). Thomas is fascinated by the prospect of becoming a Runner and finding the key to escape from this madness, despite pushback from Gally, who never liked him anyway. Then, one day, for the first time, a girl arrives in the elevator. Her name is Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and in her pocket is a piece of paper informing Gladers that she is the last one up. Insanity of all kinds begins to take place around the maze and The Glade, and needless to say, complications ensue.
Whatever blame that should be placed on making The Maze Runner a mediocre movie cannot and should not be laid at the feet of the actors. Everyone gives a solid showing. Best known for his work on TV, O’Brien is pretty good as Thomas. He must go through emotions and challenges of all kinds as the lead character, and he handles them all with a great intensity. Thomas Brodie-Sangster plays Newt, Thomas’ right hand man, helpful especially at the start, where his character is important in helping us get a better grasp of the atmosphere of The Glade. Will Poulter is suitably hatable as Gally, willing to stop at seemingly nothing to punish Thomas under the guise of “keeping order”. Beyond this, there’s a large and diverse supporting cast, and you have to hand it to the movie at least for creating a multi-ethnic film, free from stereotypes. And the effects are mostly on point, as well. The sound mix is very loud and involving (if you have to see this one, see it in theaters), and the movie looks good (even though much of it takes place in dark mazes or the forest.) On the down side here, there’s also shaky-cam during some of the fights, either between two people or a Griever, with all-too-manic cutting making it at times borderline incoherent, resulting in the you losing a considerable amount of investment in the outcome of the scene.
With all of that said, here’s the main problem. I don’t know whether the problem lies with Dashner’s novel or the screenplay adaptation, but after the excellent first act, the movie begins a descent into a homogeneous mush of boredom and disinterest, sometimes interrupted by some well made action. However, all of this pales in comparison to the final few minutes, where not only is it howlingly unbelievable, filled to the brim with unanswered questions, but it ends on a very dumb sequel hook. It’s a horrible miracle over how increasingly uninvolved writing and a growing disinterest in its characters can kill nearly the entire momentum of this 113 minute movie. The more warmed over and generic the situation seems, the less you care about Thomas’ quest to get out of the maze, even though there’s more than a few scenes in between that strike up some mild interest, before falling back down.
If you want to watch a good, exciting movie, look no further than Z, the last movie I reviewed, which runs circles around this in terms of total thrill value. Despite very present promise, especially at the start, The Maze Runner can’t deliver in the end, thanks to a lazy script that seems to all but laugh audibly at the audience in its final moments, condescending and money hungry before any type of artistic merit. You leave feeling cheated – a resolution is promised, but unlike many movies of this kind, doesn’t even have the decency to pretend to have a “real” ending. How rude. (But in all of this, I fondly remember one of the best scenes in the film, where Teresa, confused and frightened after her arrival, gets up on a watch tower and throws rocks at the guys, temporarily destroying their seemingly perfectly rigid social structure in seconds as they run for cover. Now that’s entertainment.)
DIRECTED BY WES BALL SCREENPLAY BY NOAH OPPENHEIM AND GRANT PIERCE MYERS AND T.S. NOWLIN, BASED ON THE BOOK BY JAMES DASHNER STARRING DYLAN O'BRIEN, THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER, AND WILL POULTER 113 MINUTES RATED PG-13