MOVIE REVIEW: THE MAZE RUNNER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: WES BALL / SCREENPLAY: NOAH OPPENHEIM, GRANT PIERCE MYERS, T.S. NOWLIN / STARRING: DYLAN O'BRIEN, AML AMEEN, KI HONG LEE, BLAKE COOPER, THOMAS BRODIE-SANGSTER, WILL POULTER / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 10TH
The latest aspirant to the Young Adult throne currently occupied by The Hunger Games, (after Twilight's abdication), the film adaptation of James Dashner's The Maze Runner ditches the now seemingly obligatory love triangle and replaces it with a heavy dose of mystery, focusing on a group of boys trapped in an agrarian glade at the heart of a harsh and inhospitable maze. The film closely follows Thomas (Teen Wolf's Dylan O'Brien), the latest amnesiac arrival in the community, who like the other boys remembers only his name, as he and the audience are thrust into a new and confusing world. As he acclimatises to his situation, the rules are slowly explained: the glade has received fresh recruits and some minor supplies once a month for the past three years; no one is permitted to enter the maze except the "Runners"; the runners map the maze, trying to find a way out; the maze is different every day, reconfiguring itself at night; the runners must return by sundown each day before the door to the maze closes; there is something (or many somethings) in the maze at night; no one has ever survived a night in the maze. But as Thomas gets used to his surroundings and its inhabitants, he discovers that even within the glade, all is not as it seems.
The Maze Runner manages to move along at a fair pace, never spending too long dwelling on its secrets before introducing an unexpected action scene or building up its cast of characters, a mix of relatively unknown actors alongside some familiar faces such as Poulter (Lee Carter from Son of Rambow) and Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones).
Unlike many other films based around a central mystery, the final reveal is interesting enough that it doesn't come as an anticlimax, and the hints handed out along the way should ensure that the audience's own theories will be in the right area. The film is, however, let down by a strange reluctance to deal with the grittier elements of its premise and is ultimately derailed by a final act that concentrates far too much on setting up potential sequels.
One of the strengths of The Hunger Games was that it dealt honestly with the brutality of its core concept, horrifically slaughtering cherubic children in the opening seconds of the first Games portrayed in the series. The Maze Runner, on the other hand, tends to shy away from such moments. Yes, the boys do have to handle one of their own gone rogue, but it's dealt with in a way that absolves them of any real responsibility. Apart from a minor scene where Thomas is sent to get "fertiliser", there's also no acknowledgement of how hard it would be for a community made up of teen and pre-teen boys to survive on their own. Food and shelter seems plentiful. Hard times are mentioned, but never really elaborated on. Even the "The Pit", the boys' version of solitary confinement, looks rather cosy.
Whatever character conflicts do occur, they are nothing along the lines of the Lord of the Flies tribalism that you would expect from a bunch of stranded young men. All the most interesting character interactions seems to have occurred before Thomas' arrival, helpfully freeing him up to nose around and upset the status quo, but at the cost of leaving the other actors with little to do. Overall, The Hunger Games need not worry too much about watching its back.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10