The Maze Runner

Maze-Runner-Alby-Aml-Ameen-Gally-Will-Poulter-Newt-Thomas-Brodie-Sangster

 

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 DivergentThe 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.

 

David Turpin

12A (See IFCO for details)

113 minutes

The Maze Runner is released 10th October 2014

The Maze Runner  – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Death of a Superhero

DIR: Ian Fitzgibbon • WRI: Anthony McCarten •PRO: Michael Garland, Astrid Kahmke, Philipp Kreuzer • DOP: Tom Fährmann • ED: Tony Cranstoun • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Andy Serkis, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan

Death of a Superhero follows Donald Clarke, played by Thomas Bodie-Sangster – teenager, comic-book artist and cancer patient. Donald’s concerned parents hire psychiatrist Dr. Aidan King (Andy Serkis) – who specialises in dealing with terminal patients – to try and get through to their increasingly angry & frustrated son. Initially, Donald has no time for this particular doctor, but King begins to employ some unusual tactics and the two form a sort of friendship. Meanwhile, Donald’s world is further complicated when new girl Shelly (Aisling Loftus) starts attending his school.

Death for a Superhero has a somewhat unusual production history. It’s based on a novel from New Zealand author Anthony McCarten, who was initially lined up to direct an adaptation. At some point, the Irish Film Board and local production company Grand Pictures hopped on board, soon followed by the German Bavaria Films. The setting was shifted to Ireland (specifically the areas surrounding the South Dublin DART line), and Ian Fitzgibbons took over directorial duties. German involvement – as well as the presence of Gollum himself – ensures the film is entrusted with a higher budget than most Irish productions enjoy.

The extra funds were utilised efficiently. It may be seem like faint praise, but Death of a Superhero is extremely, well, cinematic. It looks great, with director of photography Tom Fährmann consistently capturing compellingly moody images. The film has various animated flourishes in the form of straight comic book sequences, as well as a handful of scenes where Donald imagines his characters breaking through into the real world. These interludes are handled well, and help elaborate on our protagonist’s frame of mind without the need for clunkier storytelling shortcuts. It’s not exactly a subtle film, but it’s mostly thoughtfully directed by Fitzgibbons.

The film also benefits from a strong ensemble cast. Bodie-Sangster and Loftus particularly impress as the two star-crossed teens – both performances offer real depth. Strong support is provided by Michael McElhatton, Sharon Horgan and Ronan Raftery as Donald’s father, mother and brother – they each attempt to deal with Donald’s illness in very different and compelling ways. Serkis, meanwhile, doesn’t always have a lot to work with, but eventually the script allows him to build a potentially clichéd character into someone more intriguing.

Speaking of clichés, Death of a Superhero’s biggest problem by far is its inherent familiarity. Almost everything in the film – from the unconventional psychiatrist to the extended focus on Donald trying to loose his virginity – has been done before, and sometimes better. It’s always obvious how characters or ideas planted early on are going to recur later. The familiarity isn’t helped by the story’s similarities to last year’s 50/50 – while Superhero’s source material of course predates that particular film, it’s still sure to draw some comparisons.

Still, Death of a Superhero arguably manages to achieve a more effective tonal balance than 50/50 did, with comedy and drama blending together convincingly. Death of a Superhero also plumbs genuinely dark themes and depths – the audience is never allowed to forget the severity of Donald’s disease or that our hero is being forced to confront his own mortality. There’s little cheap sentimentality here. The film encourages the audience to make a real emotional connection with the characters, and there are several genuinely powerful moments throughout the film. The end product is, if not original, mostly affecting and distinctive.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
96 mins
Death of a Superhero is released on 30th November 2012

 

Read Paul Webster’s interview with producer Michael Garland and director Ian FitzGibbon from Film Ireland 140 Spring 2012 here

 

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