Saturday, 20 September 2014

Film Review: The Maze Runner

The latest film off the starting blocks in the YA adaptation arms-race, The Maze Runner follows in the footsteps of The Hunger Games and Divergent by blending a hot young cast with a gritty alternative universe set-up and some bloody arena action.

(Also, bonus points in the comments section for the person who can pick out the most 'running' puns - the count is already on three...)

An easy way to summarise The Maze Runner would be to describe as a mixture of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games - a group of teens (all boys) are left to craft their own sticks-and-stones society after being placed into an idyllic glade encircled by a gigantic, seemingly unending, maze. One by one, the boys arrive via an underground lift and for three years, have lived out their lives in fear of the creepy-crawly monsters (called Grievers) that lurk within the maze at night.

That is until Thomas arrives - like the others, Thomas is dropped into the Hunger Games arena glade with only the clothes on his back and his memory wiped. Nicknamed 'Greenie' by the residents of the Glade, Thomas soon proves to be different to the others, brimming with curiosity to find an exit route from the maze and uncover the secrets of those who put them there.

Dylan O'Brien plays Thomas, and I thought he did a pretty decent job in the lead role. Not amazing, but not really bad either. That said, he did bring a dash of darkness and determination to the character, an element which was essentially the main driving force behind the plot. He has a real desire to discover the secrets of the maze, as well as protect his friends.

The actors who stood out most for me were Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt and Will Poulter (a.k.a Winner of the Best Angry Eyebrows Award 2014) as Gally. Both have dabbled in fantasy across their careers (Game of Thrones for Brodie-Sangster, The Chronicles of Narnia for Poulter), but here they really fit with the surreal world and situation they find themselves in. Poulter was particularly good as the antagonistic Gally who distrusts Thomas' intentions - he added a weighty dose of strength and authority.

Tonally, I liked that the film maintained that sense of mystery and questioning throughout - it's very shadowy and eerie seeing a group of kids get on with farming and camp fires whilst surrounded my a honking great maze. The monsters are kept under-wraps for that most part, whilst the secret behind the maze is suitably bonkers and high-concept. In many ways, it was better not knowing the answer...

Whilst I haven't read the source material, I did a little digging to see if there were many ways in which the film differed. I found that there are a few deviations, some which will no doubt have been cut to trim the run-time and maintain focus. After thinking it through, I think they made the right decision, as the film felt really lean and mean, not over-encumbered with superfluous subplot. At just over two hours, the film didn't run out of breath midway through, and kept the pace brisk throughout.

The film worked best when it kept things simple - there isn't an overly convoluted faction system (like in Divergent) that takes 20 minutes to set-up, and Ball really hits the ground running. It feels stripped back, but not in a way that makes the plot feel lacking. In my opinion, the final hurdle was where the film fell down. It's loaded with unanswered questions, and blows simplicity out of the water. It's for this reason that I think it'll split people into two camps - the "oooh, that's cool"'s and the "what a crock of shite!"'s.

One criticism I did have was the inconsistent camerawork and direction during the action scenes. Much of the action was set during the dead of night, and coupling this with some wobbly and unnecessary shaky-cam meant the action often felt messy and hard to follow. Plus, the VFX work on the monstrous Grievers could have done with some polish.

Another drawback, especially for fans of strong female characters, is that the only girl in whole movie, Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, has disappointingly little to do. Whilst I'm sure she'll play a more important role later in the series, in this first entry she was introduced with much fanfare only to be relegated to bit part for the rest of the runtime.

However, criticism aside, The Maze Runner was surprisingly good. O'Brien, Poulter and Brodie-Sangster head-up a talented multicultural ensemble (Ki Hong Lee and Aml Ameen also gave great performances), whilst the frenetic action was often underscored with some shockingly bloodthirsty moments. Despite a wobbly ending and female representation, I'm keen to see where this series goes. It certainly got off on the right foot (ding ding ding, that's the last one I swear!)

The Verdict: 6.5/10

The Maze Runner ranks somewhere between Divergent (mediocre) and The Hunger Games (excellent) on the scale of YA adaptations - whilst there are rough edges to be rounded off in the already confirmed second instalment, I was actually quietly impressed with how confident, and sometimes brutal, this film was. Dark, unforgiving and full of surprises, The Maze Runner is actually worth checking out (I know, I'm as surprised as you are).  


  1. I am pretty surprised that this movie is actually good as well, even thought I have read the book source before and I can't wait to see the movie after reading this review.

    1. That's great news! I haven't read the book either but didn't get lost or feel like the movie was a watered down version of the book. I'd definitely suggest checking it out! Thanks for commenting James :)

  2. Nice review. I was also pretty impressed overall with this. It did get a bit stupid with its ending that didn't make a lick of sense, but otherwise, pretty damn good for the most part. :)

    1. I can imagine a lot of people getting annoyed at the ending for being 100% sequel bait. I'm sure it'll pan out in the future and make a bit more sense then, but at this point it just makes the whole film a little silly. I liked it much more when the mystery was still there. Thanks for commenting Chris! :)



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