REVIEW: “The Maze Runner”

MAZE poster

Fear not my friends, teen dystopian science fiction is still alive and well! Don’t believe me? Just check out the laundry list of films that fit the description. As we speak “The Hunger Games” and “Divergence” are two franchises currently going (or recently ended) that are based on popular teen books. Add to that list “The Maze Runner”, the first installment of the film adaptations of James Dashner’s popular 2009 book series.

“The Maze Runner” serves as one big introduction to the characters, the setting, and the circumstances. It functions specifically as the opening of a series and it does little to expand its identity beyond that. First time director Wes Ball follows a pretty bland blueprint in establishing his world. There are several cool elements at work and the entire premise is pretty intriguing. There are also several common shortcomings that plaque many of these types of films.

MAZE1

The story begins with a 16-year old boy (Dylan O’Brien) suddenly waking up in a moving service elevator. He is met at the top by a group of boys in a place called the Glade – a big grassy area completely surrounded by huge stone walls. The boy (who we later find out is named Thomas) doesn’t know who he is or how he got into the elevator. And obviously he has no idea what kind of world he has awoken to.

The boys of the Glade have built a social structure filled with several of the usually character types. Thomas and the audience learn about the world through scene after scene of exposition. For a while it seems like each character he meets has to stop a lay out another explanation of what this group of people does or of what that particular threat is. Very little is allowed to happen organically in the first half of the film.

But even amid some pretty generic table setting an intriguing  foundation is laid and the second half of the film builds upon it. The walls around the Glade actually lead to a giant maze filled with a number of dangers. The group has given into the idea that they will never make it out of the Glade. Thomas defies that reasoning and sparks a movement to learn the maze and escape their captivity. But what is actually looming behind the maze? Don’t worry, you’ll have three whole movies to find out.

THE MAZE RUNNER Minho (Ki Hong Lee, left) and Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, right) search for a way out of the maze. TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  All Rights Reserved.  Not for sale or duplication.

The suspense builds up pretty good in the second half and I was genuinely hungry to get some hints as to what was going on. Unfortunately “The Maze Runner” offers up very little in terms of answers. There also isn’t a big cliffhanger high. Instead it simply ends. It also leaves you with plenty of plot holes to ponder. I’m not talking about obvious storylines that we can expect to be answered in future installments. These are portions of the story that just doesn’t make sense.

You could point to other storytelling deficiencies and you could pick apart the performances of some of the young cast. Yet despite its pretty glaring flaws, “The Maze Runner” managed to do one of the most important things – it left me interested in seeing where the next film was going. I did find enough here to get me involved and I did find myself curious about the secrets being kept. And there are a few unorthodox angles that I did find pleasantly surprising. These are reasons I can slightly recommend “The Maze Runner”. At the same time it isn’t a film I’m anxious to see again and I can certainly understand why others would be even less enthusiastic.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3 Stars

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27 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Maze Runner”

  1. Personally I found this boring. I thought I would like it because I do like The Hunger Games, but it turned out that was an anomaly for me and not the trend. I still need to see the Divergent series though.

    • Yep. As I mentioned there are points especially in the first half where it bogs down in exposition (and fairly uninteresting exposition). I do think it picks up a bit and I found myself wanting to know its secrets. So for me it did accomplish a little.

    • Same here. My son is having fun with these (more than me) so I expect to see it soon. I am curious as to whether they can offer anything new and unique. I’m getting the feeling that this may fall off into the standard teen dystopian norm. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. It took me ages to finally watch this, but I was glad when I finally did. It’s not a perfect movie by a long-shot, but it was interesting and I cared about the main characters.
    That said, Scorch Trials has been out for a while and I still haven’t seen it!
    – Allie

    • Same here Allie! I actually wrote this review last October and when I was going back over it to post it occurred to me that we have been constantly putting off watching the second film. My son has it on BluRay. We have no excuse.

  3. I had kept flirting with whether or not to see this film (it has been on my Netflix list for a while now). There has been so many different things, both good and bad, said about it. However, you have convinced me that it is at least worth giving a shot.

    • Give it a look. Just don’t expect a ton from it. I sputters along at first but it does open it in the second half. For me the premise was intriguing and they do a pretty good job of keeping you wondering. But after the ending it remains to be seen whether they can pull of a full series.

  4. I never really cared for this series. It just seems as though it was an attempt to cash in on the Hunger Games craze. I saw the sequel in theaters last year, and haven’t remembered a thing about it since.

    • It doesn’t really still with you. I reviewed this back in October and I’m just now posting it. Haven’t cared to see it again. But interesting enough to at least keep me curious.

  5. I was pleasantly surprised by this movie as I was expecting nothing and got a nice little film that left me wanting to see the next installment. As you say, it’s far from perfect, but it is intriguing. While not the spectacle that is The Hunger Games, I enjoyed this about as much and far more than the Divergent films.

    • It surprised me too. I truly expected to pan the thing but it got its hooks in me. Kept me interested enough to see the next one. So in that respect, Mission accomplished.

  6. Nice review. 🙂 I was surprised to quite enjoy this movie so I then started reading the books (I hate doing it that way around). Anyway… Ugh. The books aren’t very good. :-/ The first movie is actually much better! I’ve not seen the second yet but will continue as I’ve now read the books. I hope the movies continue to be better than the books!

  7. I watched this and liked this enough to start the books, and the first one was so terrible I couldn’t continue. That being said, the movie was still entertaining enough, albeit flawed. I watched The Scorch Trials when it came, and I regret ever spending so much of my time on something so stupid. Ugh. Looking forward to seeing what you think about it!

  8. Sat through two of them now and I really hope the third picks up the slack. The Scorch Trials was a bit of a slog as was the first. Not an entirely offensive series of films, but hardly anything original. We’re eye to eye on this it seems

  9. I don’t like using this cliche but watching paint dry is more exciting than The Maze Runner. I found it to be a pointless bore and not a patch on either of the recent teen fiction fantasies Divergent or The Hunger Games. I think one of its issues is that it felt too much like a prelude and not a proper, self-contained film. Problem is, despite its promise of more drama, I’ve little intention or interest in finding out what happens next.

  10. I’ll tell you what, I was really hooked by the first 30 minutes to first half of the movie. I think the film set up its world and mystery wonderfully.

    It isn’t until the 2nd half, for me at least, when things begin to fall apart with the mystery being unraveled and the ultimate climax reveal that is simultaneously horrible with its exposition and hilariously funny with how one character just shows up out of nowhere, essentially.

    Meant to see the 2nd one in theaters last year but never got around to it. Will be a Netflix/cable watch for me. Great thoughts as always Keith.

    • Thanks my friend. I’m a bit lenient mainly due to my hesitant optimism. I do like the setting and hope they see it through, but there still is a bit of hesitation though.

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