Firstly, I know this film was based on a beloved book and I have not read that book, so this review is based purely on the movie version. Also, there are going to be a lot of spoilers…
*Warning: There be Spoilers!*
Despite having not read the books, I admit that it was knowing this film was based on a dystopian YA series that made me want to watch the film in the first place, because I’m a total sucker for these stories.
The Maze Runner starts off strong with NO VOICE-OVER!! (does the happy dance). I braced myself for the voice-over prologue explaining the way the world worked, but it never came and I was immediately more intrigued because of this. The film throws us right into the action where our teenage MC wakes up to find himself in a cage, shipped off to a mysterious glade populated by other adolescent males. This has the potential to be all very Lord of the Flies-ish and I anticipated the story to head in that direction. But not so much…
We discover that the boys who wake up in the glade have no memories of their life beyond the walls of their rather picturesque prison except for remembering their name. Convenient and I’m not sure this can be credibly medically explained but okay, I’ll go with it. Second, we discover that the boys have established a mostly self-sufficient community that is extremely well-structured and ordered despite being run and populated by hormonal teenage boys. These boys are prisoners in the glade and have tried just about everything to fine their way out of the surrounding maze. The kicker is that this maze is only open during the day and the huge, imposing gates close every night to keep mysterious nasties out of the glade and curious boys in it. So ‘maze runners’ spend the daylight hours trying to run and map the maze in the hopes of one day getting out. It’s not that simple though, obviously.
Thomas, our MC who remembers a little more than just his name but can’t really make sense of it, being a curious lad starts to question everything in the glade as he should. The answers to his questions boil down to: we’ve tried everything else, the only way out of the maze is through. This is problematic because despite being able to build fairly sophisticated housing structures, including watch towers and trees houses, these boys never think to build scaffolding to help them scale the walls of the maze and approach the problem with an aerial view. The reason for this? The vines only go half way up the walls (please consult the above image which was an official movie poster and take note of the vine placement.) Okay, movie, you clearly want these boys to have to run through the maze. Fine. But I do think they could’ve come up with a better reason for it. Anyway…
Thomas, possessing all the qualities of an intrepid YA hero, starts challenging the status quo and things start going wrong in the glade. At this point, the film really wanted to be a zombie movie but didn’t quite get there. Apparently, the nasty creatures which inhabit the maze at night are suddenly active during the day. A sting from one of these creatures turns the unlucky stingee into a rabid, zombie-esque monster and of course panic ensues. I anticipated a lot more Lord of the Flies like divisiveness in the camp when their leader gets stung and there are a few minor dust-ups – some pushing and shoving – but nothing more than that, and I didn’t buy it one little bit. These are teenage boys in a highly stressful environment, not zen masters! I also wanted to see more of that moral grayness that arises when good people do bad things for potentially the right reasons, but our MC is almost boring he’s so good and decent about everything – even accepting punishment for basically being brave from the jerk of the group far too good-naturedly. To be honest, I found Thomas a tad dull and lifeless. More bad stuff happens and Thomas proves he’s a hero by selflessly putting himself in harms way, running into the maze as it’s closing for the night to help his friend. Fine, but then a terrifying flight from the scorpion-like, semi-organic, mostly robotic creatures ensues and it is shown repeatedly that these creatures can scale the walls – so why have they never scaled the walls at night and terrorized the glade? If they’re programmed not to hurt the boys, why the sudden change in MO? WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING!? I actually might’ve been grateful for a voice-over explaining some of this to me.
Also, considering this is a camp full of boys, some of whom have been there for years, there is absolutely no discussion about sex or sexuality. It was conspicuous by its absence and was made even more conspicuous by its absence when a girl arrives in their midst.
It’s abundantly clear from the get go that there are external forces controlling the situation and manipulating the boys’ circumstances in the glade, so what person (presuming the external forces are human of course) sends a girl into the midst of an all boy camp? What on earth were they hoping to achieve? With the arrival of the girl, I expected a lot of chest bashing, awkwardness, maybe some lewd looks or comments, or at least some comments about the fact that there was now a girl in their midst but nope, the boys are as passive as ever. After three years of this sort of isolation with no memories of a previous life including no memories of morality or societal norms, I just don’t buy the almost genteel way in which this situation was handled. It’s all very disappointing and unbelievable. I couldn’t help but think back to that fabulous New Zealand-made series called The Tribe where teenagers are left to rule the world and the type of society that becomes. That felt authentic. This glade business? Not so much.
At least the girl’s presence seems to be the catalyst for change and one night, the gates don’t close, meaning the big bad nasties get to tear loose through the camp, which is the final straw for Thomas and crew to find their way out of the maze once and for all. Suffice it to say, they do in a somewhat improbable way, but okay. The explanation they’re given when they reach the control center presumably set up to monitor the glade and manipulate the goings-on, is that the sun has scorched the earth and people are dying. With the future of humanity in jeopardy, the best solution the government could come up with was to stick a bunch of boys together in a glade and conduct increasingly brutal psychological experiments on them, hoping these kids would somehow prove themselves strong enough to survive, thereby proving there was hope for humanity. What the what? So, we’re running low on people and our solution is to systematically maim and murder our future generation because if kids can’t defend themselves against giant robot scorpions with a zombie sting, you’re right, the world is totally screwed. I just couldn’t even at this point, but wait… presumably government agents swoop in at exactly the right time to save these kids from the institution – now defunct considering all the people controlling the glade are dead, thanks to those same goons now swooping in to rescue the kids. Confused yet? I was! How about those government dudes go save the kids still trapped in the glade considering they have flipping HELICOPTERS and could easily have landed AT ANY TIME within the glade to airlift these kids to safety. Also, what’s with the morbid fascination with watching kids die or killing each other in gruesome ways (I’m looking at you Hunger Games).
But the real kicker comes at the very end as Thomas and crew – minus a few members, because of course we needed Thomas to shed a few tears to prove he’s human despite his apparent dissociation from everything that’s happening to him – fly off in the chopper to apparent safety. The film ends with a scene showing the maze mastermind – who we saw murdered a few moments ago – hale and hearty and planning to move the escapees onto the second phase of the trials. Trials for what? Given the amount of sand, I’m guessing the sun did cook the Earth, or perhaps we’re in the Sahara? But if all that was true about the sun and the imminent demise of humanity, why is the government killing children!?!?
This film was incredibly well done – the CGI was fantastic and the cinematography wonderful. It was visually appealing and the soundtrack was great too. The acting wasn’t bad, even if the actor playing Thomas wasn’t terribly exciting. He might’ve doing a great job of recreating the character from the book, but he came across as almost apathetic in the film. What failed most miserably for me was the premise, so basically the entire story. A few weeks after watching this movie, I’m still trying to figure out the why of it all, and without that I don’t know if I should care. Also, where were the rest of the girls? What was the point of having an all boy group, other than to make the story a ‘boy’ story? I just don’t get it. Maybe I missed something. Maybe the movie failed utterly to adapt a brilliant book, but judging the film as it stands, I’m really not impressed. 1.5/5 ink splats from me.