A few weeks ago, fellow MP staffer Kristin and I went to a screening of [The Maze Runner](movie:575895). Since both of us got to attend, I thought I'd change up my usual format a bit and tag her in for a double-team review. Because what's better than one review? Two reviews, that's what.
Unless it's pizza. Nothing is better than pizza.
[The Maze Runner](movie:575895) is another attempt at adapting a popular YA book series for the big screen. The movie follows young protagonist Thomas, who awakens in an elevator with no memory of who he is. He finds himself in the middle of the Glade, a giant, well, glade, populated by a few dozen other boys who are also devoid of memories, but who have managed to cobble together some semblance of a functioning society.
It quickly becomes apparent that something more sinister is at work, as the elevator delivers both food and one new boy every month to the boys in the Glade. What's more, the Glade is surrounded on all sides by a giant Maze, the doors to which open every day to allow the Glade's Maze Runners through to scout, and close every night to protect the inhabitants of the Glade from the vicious, poisonous mechanical creatures known only to the Gladers as Grievers.
Soon, Thomas finds himself caught up in the mystery of figuring out the Maze when he becomes the first to kill a Griever, and then a girl arrives in the elevator for the first time bearing a note that she will be the last delivery ever. That's when things inevitably go to hell.
Cue the Lord of the Flies-style infighting and factions dividing. One half rallies around the hope and change Thomas brings in his wake, and the other half remains true to Gally, a careful, suspicious boy afraid of change.
So, ladies, just like superhero films, it seems like YA movies can make or break the career of a young Hollywood star. So how did the cast do? Was the acting solid?
Alisha: The cast was on-point for what they were given to work with, particularly Dylan O'Brien, who was believably earnest and noble as Thomas. The young actor showed a surprising amount of depth for someone whose only real acting experience has been [Teen Wolf](series:721002). Thomas Brodie-Sangster's wise performance also recalled shades of his character on [Game of Thrones](series:201531), relative unknown Ki Hong Lee was smartly cast in the role of stalwart sidekick Minho, and Will Poulter's Gally was an antagonist that you could truly dislike, but also empathize with. The only drawback was Kaya Scodelario's performance as Teresa, but that was less a mark against her abilities and more the fault of the script, which introduced her abruptly and left no time for character development before rushing to get to the rising action.
Kristin: The cast was actually surprisingly great. Dylan O'Brien played the hero very well, considering his role in Teen Wolf is normally one of comic relief. His character, Thomas, is fine but it's really O'Brien's performance that made it really worth watching. Unfortunately, Will Poulter's character Gally was not great. He's a really good actor so I don't think that he's to blame here, but his character was very one-dimensional. In my mind, Gally's logic was completely irrational and confusing. If I had it my way, he would have been thrown into The Maze to learn a hard lesson about being a team player. Similarly, through no fault of her own, Kaya Scodelario was somewhat one-note as Teresa. You'd figure that as the only girl in The Glade they would have written her as a more dynamic character, but they just didn't give the talented Scoldelario much to work with. A major highlight of the film was Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who surprised no one with his fantastic performance as Newt. Brodie-Sangster always seems to play the sage young man, because dammit if he doesn't play that role well.
All of the promo material for the movie looked amazing. Did the cinematography and design match up to that? Was the movie visually awesome?
Alisha: For me, the visual elements and cinematography were the strongest aspect of the movie. Honestly, it was a beautiful film, full of sweeping shots that showed the full scope of the safety of the Glade, and the Maze that dwarfed it. The Maze itself was gargantuan, a chimera - more Labyrinth than Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. A massive fight sequence in the Glade was also gripping, an interesting contrast between the rough-hewn wooden hovels of the Gladers versus the mechanical, man-made Grievers. Visually, fans of the book should be pleased at what the filmmakers envisioned, because it was pretty. Really, really pretty.
Kristin: The cinematography was definitely my favorite part of the film. The juxtaposition between The Glade and The Maze really resonates with the viewers. On the one hand, there exists this small, lush plot of land that helps provide everything that the characters need to survive. But on the other, there's this colossal, towering, barren Maze. One sustains life, the other brings death. Some pretty cool visuals that were extremely well-designed. Even though you're always kind of aware that a lot of the stuff is filmed over a green screen, it does so without being distracting. A huge accomplishment in my book.
Okay, buuuuuut...how about the story itself? It's pretty and the acting was solid, but what about the story? It's always tricky when books are adapted to the screen, you know.
Alisha: The story itself is not entirely impressive, being your standard dystopian YA fare: There is a cataclysmic event (in this case, climate change), the government goes to oppressive, fanatical lengths to keep order in the new society, and somehow, a group of teenagers are the only ones who have the wherewithal to fight the system from within. It's the classic teens-vs-authority trope, and it doesn't really add much to a story arc that's already been told dozens of times over in different ways (and in some cases, by much better writers). The Maze Runner might have set itself apart by making the characters ones we truly care about, by taking the generic storyline and turning it into something other. Unfortunately, it never came close to accomplishing either of those things.
And...here's where the movie fell apart for me. Like I said, they didn't spend much time on character development. The reason I pulled for Thomas at all was mostly on the strength of O'Brien's performance, not because the scriptwriters made him a particularly deep character. It was a bafflingly short film at only 113 minutes, and I left the theater thinking that the filmmakers should have picked up some of the scenes left on the cutting room floor and inserted them back into the movie. Yes, audiences like for the pace to move quickly, but this moved too quickly: Thomas arrives, there's a flurry of action, Teresa arrives, the action picks up, the climax, and then the movie is over. Truly, other than Thomas, I felt very little for any of the other characters, rendering what was supposed to be a pivotal death scene at the end of the film all but devoid of emotion for me. I remember thinking that had they put even 15 more minutes of character development into the film, I might have actually cared.
Kristin: Ehh...it's hard to say. To be fair, I haven't read the Maze Runner series so I can only look at this as a movie viewer. I think that if I had read the books, which likely allowed for more character development, then maybe the movie would appeal to me more. I just felt like I didn't get enough time to know the characters. Granted, there was a pretty huge ensemble, so some accommodations had to be made time-wise. But in the end, I just didn't really care about any of them, other than Thomas since he's the one we spent the most time with. The story itself is an interesting one, but not anything we haven't seen before in Young Adult fiction. I think that one of the more redeeming qualities of the story is that, at least in the film, there is no time wasted on romance between Thomas and Teresa. It was good to see a story that was more about survival, and not about someone trying to win the affections of the only girl in The Glade. That being said, with the extra time afforded from that cut, you'd think we'd get to know a bit more about some of the other characters.
So some of it is good, some of it bad...but overall, would you recommend it?
Alisha: For fans of the book, yes, I'd recommend it, if only because it is very cool to see the design concept for the Maze, the Glade, and the Grievers. It will also help that people who have previously read the book will be able to fill in the gaps in character development that the film leaves out, so the glaring lack of dimension in most of the characters probably won't be as noticeable. For everyone else...well...probably not. If you want a 20th Century Fox movie to actually be excited about, I'd suggest waiting a few weeks until [Gone Girl](movie:833123) and [The Book of Life](movie:364131) are in theaters.
Kristin: I agree with Alisha, if you've read the book, go for it. It's a stunning movie. If you already know the story and care about the characters, then you can play mental fill-in-the-blank with the parts of the movie that felt lacking to those of us who haven't read the series. If you're not already a fan of the series or Dylan O'Brien, then I'd say pass, or at least wait until it comes out on Redbox. We're also getting past the lull of the post-summer movies, and gearing up for all of the great fall films that are about to hit theaters.