The Maze Runner (2014)

Get Ready to Run

The Hunger Games (2012) meets Lord of the Flies (1990), or J.J. Abrams’s Lost (2004), is perhaps the best way to describe The Maze Runner, as these parallels are plainly obvious, yet this premise is intriguing enough to spark interest on its own accord. Based on the 2007 international young-adult best seller, by UK author James Dashner, The Maze Runner is a frightening, perplexing and emotionally harrowing tale of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who, one day wakes up with no memory, other than his name, trapped inside a metal box, being propelled upwards towards the unknown. Thomas eventually finds himself in ‘The Glade,’ a large square concrete area inhabited by a number of young men, aged from their early to late teens. The group is trapped, surrounded by a mysterious, ever changing, and monster infested maze.

With nowhere to go, Thomas settles into The Glade and meets Alby (Aml Ameen), the rough talking, kind-hearted leader; Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), his English second hand; the illusive, head Maze Runner, Minho (Ki Hong Lee) — who’s a bit of a heartthrob — and the adorable Chuck (Blake Cooper), who eventually befriends Thomas. Within a matter of days, Thomas unravels more about his frightening surroundings, becoming puzzled and terrified by his dire situation, however, Thomas is determined to get out of The Glade and will stop at nothing to make sure this happens. Learning that the original group had spent the better part of two years trying to escape entrapment by deciphering the maze that surrounds their living space, Thomas attempts to join the Maze Runners, a troop of skilled young men who track and study the confines of the labyrinth, that is, until a comatose girl (Kaya Scodelario) arrives, unexpectedly, with a strange note, triggering a chain of events that will change life in The Glade forever.

The Lost Boys!
The Lost Boys!

Like most book-to-film adaptations, there are a few irritating changes within the translation; when it comes to The Maze Runner in particular, the text is an intricately detailed character driven narrative, alas, some of the novel’s complex supporting player traits are lost due to the picture’s rapid, almost rushed pacing, making it difficult to feel empathy or emotional attachment towards several of the guys. Anyhow, fans shouldn’t let this get in the way of their viewing experience, as The Maze Runner — although shot over a minuscule 42 days — remains true to the overall feeling of the book, as director Wes Ball — in his feature directorial debut — does a phenomenal job ensuring that The Glade is as hard and unforgiving — with its surrounding maze appearing as enigmatic and intimating — as author Dashner describes. Furthermore, director Ball referenced several Terrence Malick pictures to inspire him when creating the feature’s aesthetic, as he liked the idea of a more mature, sophisticated looking picture.

Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf (2011) fame — whose hairstyle almost cost him the role of Thomas, as director Wes Ball thought it was too ‘MTV’ — delivers a captivating performance as Thomas, the out-of-place protagonist who knows more than he is lead to believe. This is a very new role for the 23-year-old, beginning his career in the first season of the MTV hit show Teen Wolf back in 2011. As his Teen Wolf personality, Stiles Stilinski, is more-or-less comic relief for the show, The Maze Runner is O’Brien’s first major attempt at a serious film role, as there isn’t much laughs to be had for Thomas, living in The Glade. The rest of the cast — made up almost exclusively of British unknowns, or yet to be knowns, all trying their best to sound American — do a sufficient overall job. That being said, fans of the book will not be disappointed with the casting choices either, as the film’s major players are all incredibly accurate representations of the characters described in the novel, with performances from Aml Ameen, The Butler (2013), Thomas Sangster, from HBO’s popular Game of Thrones (2001) — who gets to keep his British accent — and Will Poulter, We’re the Millers (2013) — who provides the bulk of the picture’s conflict — all bringing the Glade to life in spectacular fashion. Special mention should be made of Kaya Scodelario — best known for her portrayal of Effy Stonem in the E4 teen drama Skins (2007) — as Teresa Agnes, making her presence known as the token female of the faction, and Blake Cooper in his depiction of Chuck, a 13-year-old who is clearly trying to make himself useful, although surrounded by older, more capable mates. This is the first movie role for Cooper and he does an excellent job invoking numerous feelings from patrons, ranging from laughter to grief.

'If you ain't scared ... you ain't human.'
‘If you ain’t scared … you ain’t human.’

The Maze Runner is predominantly fast paced and action packed; there is rarely a dull moment as things go from bad to worse in the microcosm of The Glade. Director Ball had a challenging job translating Dashner’s material to the screen, as fans of the series are die hard and the world created by the author is one of complete immersion, ensnaring the reader in the stronghold of The Glade. Nonetheless, the environment created by the filmmakers ensures this sense of entrapment, with Ball creating an atmosphere of suspense and heart pounding excitement. High walls, corridors that stretch on forever and gigantic, mechanical spider-like creatures called Grievers, ensure the maze is depicted as a menacing and treacherous place. The narrative echoes the maze itself, with twists and turns throughout the story as the audience are never too sure which direction this screenplay will steer, resulting in feelings of sadness, anger or even frustration. Similarly, the soundscape and score by John Paesano, DreamWorks Dragons (2012), pounds relentlessly, although becoming somewhat overbearing by the flick’s third act.

With the door left wide open for the inevitable sequel, The Maze Runner is a story-driven, adrenaline filled, brain-busting feature, crammed with characters aimed to attract its young target market, and whirl-wind narrative surprises, which should keep unsuspecting viewers on edge of their seats. Newcomers to the series should try to avoid spoilers for this one, as the ending is a killer.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Kathryn Snowball

The Maze Runner is released through 20th Century Fox Australia