Intriguing Young Adult fare for about forty minutes, but as soon as I saw the maze I was monumentally disappointed. The Maze Runner throws in a few dozen teenagers into an enclosed village with only an entrance into a deathtrap maze as a possible outlet. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), the new meat, is improbably fearless and courageous and wants to immediately enter the maze. There are experienced “runners,” but after a couple of them perish a guy like Thomas is a needed replacement. While there a few idealists among the “Lord of the Flies” coterie, there’s also Gally (Will Poulter) who enforces as many strict village rules as possible and seems to promote anti-escape. Thomas and Gally constantly test each other, but it amazes me that more residents don’t side with Thomas. Even if he’s new, he makes more sense. In occurrence with this conflict, every promise of storytelling quality begins to go down from there.
The maze is gigantic in size with walls taller than the Great Wall of China. The doors open at dawn every morning, and close every mid-afternoon. Runners daily go through the maze to explore and solve its endless riddles. Once the doors close, the trapped ones seem to die from mutant predators. No one has ever lasted over night. Some runner gets stuck on one afternoon, and Thomas dashes in to save that person and must survive over night. Predators aside, this isn’t a very interesting maze.
In fact, it’s not a very good maze at all once you see it again in the afternoon. I was expecting a complex series of passageways and ducts. Once you race past a few columns, it’s an open arena that anybody can just run through. Sure, there are deathtraps, but once you’ve mapped it, nothing should be so hard as to curtail one to find their way around. Oh my God, the space! The space! If one imagines a daunting labyrinth, one imagines a series of scary claustrophobic enclosures. I wonder if the original book author James Dashner knows what a labyrinth is (the prequel and sequel books have nothing to do with a maze, just teens trying to win back the world from the apocalypse).
I couldn’t believe past runners never accomplished what Thomas is able to do, pretty fast. The mystery of the maze concerns as to why these teenage boys were selected as guinea pigs in the first place (and, I nearly forgot — one girl! Oh my God, the non-complications with that). When I learned of why dozens of boys and one girl (Kaya Scodelario) were chosen, it had to have been one of the most idiotic revelations the movies have given me since M. Night Shyamalan’s rock bottom mysteries. You can’t discipline betterment of youth by risking the possibility that they might get killed off when you have mutant predators released on them.
I had real hope that this would be better than “Divergent” earlier this year (similarities turn out to be unavoidable), but its worth is way less than that. Way less. Patricia Clarkson is the mastermind scientist, Ki Hong Lee is the most charismatic of the runners, a few other actors make marginal impressions: Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Chris Sheffield, Jacob Latimore.
113 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
SCI-FI & FANTASY / TEENS FOR HEARTTHROBS / WEEKEND QUASI-THRILLS
Film Cousins: “Lord of the Flies” (1963); “Labyrinth” (1986); “The Village” (2004); “Divergent” (2014).