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.
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 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