Directed by: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
To say The Maze Runner is derivative would be an understatement. I am well aware that these kinds of accusations are often met with protests like "but The Maze Runner came way before other similar YA novels." In this case, that's fair, as James Dashner's The Maze Runner was published one year before The Hunger Games, a novel that has many notable similarities. But it makes no difference as to who was first; the fact is that audiences have already seen this movie many, many times. It doesn't matter which came first, audiences are seeing The Maze Runner in 2014. We've already seen "dark dystopian futures" and "one special teenager that will change everything." If those responsible for this film really wanted to honour James Dashner's novel, they would not have made this movie after this sort of thing has become cliche.
The film opens with our main character, Thomas, in a dark elevator. It ascends to its peak, and then a hatch at the top is opened. He is now inside the maze. There's a group of boys in the maze with him (about 50 or so in all), and they don't have any idea why they're in this maze. What's more, they don't have any memories of their past, excepting their first names. But once Thomas shows up here, things start to get weird. Everything begins to change, and not in a good way.
While the film is partially salvaged by a small collection of interesting scenes, The Maze Runner is a largely bland affair. It's kind of dark, it's sort of dramatic, and it's almost satirical. It briefly attempts social commentary, occasionally tries its hand at humour, and has a handful of action-"ish" sequences. It never really decides what it wants to be, and ends up being a rough assemblage of 12 or so different movies - all of which we've seen before.
It isn't helped much by the fact that The Maze Runner is filled with plot holes. Any opportunity you may be given to become immersed in this (fairly generic) dystopian world is foiled by the distracting plot holes, not to mention numerous continuity issues that completely ruin a couple of suspenseful "race-against-time" sequences. Also, the film more or less requires you to be pretty familiar with the source material, as some rather critical elements are left completely unexplained. I attended this film with two other people, and they both asked multiple questions during and after the movie. Had I not read the book myself, I would have been completely lost.
At times, the film traverses into the delightful realm of unintentional comedy. I am grateful for such instances, as there would be little here worth paying attention for otherwise. The sources of said comedy come from the aforementioned plot holes, remarkably stupid character choices, and of course: the acting.
The cast - composed almost entirely of teenage boys - show no evidence of talent or dramatic comprehension in their performances here (with very few exceptions). The lead actor, Dylan O'Brien is boring and lacks the kind of charisma a to-be-franchise lead must have. He has all of two facial expressions: one features him staring off in the distance with his mouth agape (signifying awe or confusion). The other is the same, but with his mouth slightly more agape (signifying fear, or perhaps he was just yawning). Also, he looks completely ridiculous in any scene where he runs (given the name of the movie, he does quite a bit of running). He flails his arms around like he's got a wet mouse in his shirt, and he comically slides along the ground whenever he turns a corner.
The rest of the cast does not fare better. Aml Ameen's primary purpose in this film is to give expository lines, whilst Ki-hong Lee succeeds at being impressively bland. Will Poulter does very little with a poorly written character. Only Thomas Brodie-Sangster escapes embarrassment. He is the only convincing actor in the entire film, though his character name presents a slightly humorous and likely unintentional problem. His name in the film is "Newt," though when another character refers to him by name, it often sounds like they're calling him "Nude."
Actually, most of the characters are completely unnecessary to the plot. Only about two or three of them influence the plot in any way. The others could have been written out and nothing would have changed. At least if there were only three actors, we would have been spared some of the preschool-level performances.
Joen Paesano's score can be divided into two categories. One, the generic synthy melody-less rubbish that encompasses so many other similar films. Two, surprisingly refreshing orchestral bits that are generally completely forgettable, but not unpleasant to listen to. A couple of interesting brassy bits and an impressive action piece keeps things from being completely boring.
The Maze Runner is essentially Lord of the Flies (without the creative risks), The Giver (without the ambition), and The Hunger Games (without Jennifer Lawrence), all mish-mashed into a messy, poorly made, and completely forgettable YA adaption. It has all the expected cliches and story points (right down to the "to-be-continued" ending) and does almost nothing to distinguish itself from the many other YA adapted films on the market. Too often during this film, I found myself reminded of the things I enjoyed so much about the source material - which is interesting, because I actually found the book to be a pretty mediocre experience, just another YA novel with an intriguing premise, wasted on poor writing and weak execution. With that in mind, you should have a pretty good idea about just how bad this film is. Skip it; there will probably be another movie out just like it in the next six weeks.
By Joshua Mitchell