DIR: Wes Ball • WRI: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers • PRO: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Lee Stollman, Lindsay Williams • DOP: Enrique Chediak • ED: Dan Zimmerman • DES: Marc Fisichella • MUS: John Paesano CAST: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Patricia Clarkson
Based on a popular novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible stream of “young adult” dystopian narratives. This time, the action takes place in a mysterious “Glade” at the centre of an ever-changing maze, and our cast play a group of boys (plus one girl) who find themselves mysteriously deposited there with no memory of their pasts. The arrival of one particular boy, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), sparks unrest in the Glade, and eventually leads to a posse making a break for freedom, while trying to evade the creepy part-mechanical monsters that police the maze. Like many of its precursors – from the well-regarded Hunger Games to last spring’s crushingly dull Divergent – The Maze Runner deals with young people rebelling against systems over which they are denied control, and it’s perhaps this eminently relatable theme that has attracted viewers to dystopian narratives, while other attempts at post-Twilight “young adult” franchises, such as Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (both 2013), have floundered.
The Maze Runner is more straightforwardly action-oriented than most of its predecessors, and director Wes Ball (making his feature debut after beginning his career in visual effects) handles the set-pieces with economy and poise. A number of scenes involving characters negotiating the shifting maze are genuinely tense, although as the maze’s geography has been mapped before we enter the story, the thrills come mainly from the brute force of its transformations rather than the more cerebral excitement of solving its mysteries. On the topic of brute force, The Maze Runner is also surprisingly violent for a film aimed principally at a young audience, particularly when it enters the final stretch, as infighting and monster attacks whittle down the cast.
As Thomas, Dylan O’Brien gives a committed performance, carrying the bulk of the narrative. Save for some rather ham-fisted exposition delivered by a wasted Patricia Clarkson, the film hews closely to Thomas’s perspective, and he makes for an appealing hero. Of the other boys, Will Poulter makes the strongest impression as the antagonistic Gally, his brow permanently furrowed in indignation. Kaya Scodelario, after an interesting if truncated turn in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights (2011), feels a little bit beyond the tag-along role she plays here. As Teresa, the only girl to be deposited in the Glade, she arrives half-way through the action and is given little to do. Presumably, her character has a more significant role to play in subsequent instalments.
Those subsequent instalments are the name of the game here, because The Maze Runner, like so many other teen-oriented science-fiction opuses, eventually devolves into a trailer for prospective sequels. It’s a shame that the film signs off with a craven bit of franchise speculation because, while the late twists leave plenty of questions hanging, they also cancel out many of the distinguishing features of the narrative up to this point. Still, for what it is, the film mostly works. The cast are game, the action sequences are effective, and the monsters are scary. Viewers could do a lot worse in this subgenre, and they may find themselves hoping The Maze Runner proves to be more of a Hunger Games than a Mortal Instruments at the box office.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Maze Runner is released 10th October 2014