Maze Runner is an adaptation of the first book in author James Dashner’s sci-fi series, set in a dystopian future about a group of young people who find themselves imprisoned within the centre of a complex and dangerous maze. Directed by Wes Ball it’s a familiar premise, riding the wave of box office successes, featuring youths in revolt of a bleak troubled world they’ve inherited.
Inevitably The Hunger Games and Divergent series probably come to mind, and if this is to replace the past 5 years or so of Vampires and Werewolves, then I’m on board. The Maze Runner is good – that’s the thing about the recent resurgence of dystopian movies; they’re smart, genuinely engaging and the talent involved is above sub par.
Leading the collective of post-racial ‘lost boys’ is Alby (Aml Ameen), a charismatic young man who knows more about ‘the Glade’ than anyone – he was the first to arrive. He’s the first to welcome a confused Thomas to the fold, schooling him on the brief history of ‘the Glade’ (every three months a new boy enters) and what everyone contributes in order to survive. It’s the elusive Maze Runners that intrigue Thomas most – a selected group of young men, quick on their feet, sent out to map the mysterious maze every time it opens, but after three years of dead ends and going in circles, all attempts seem futile. Though locked up at night, the maze is an ever-present and terrifying construction. In the day it’s a labyrinth of large metal walls, at night there are monsters lurking in the paths and the maze walls move – fast.
Haunted by indecipherable flashbacks involving white coats and lab tanks, Thomas is understandably itching to escape confinement, by any means but his defiant approach to bring about change and convince others to join him, rubs resident hard-man Gally (Will Poulter) the wrong way. Thomas’s closest allies come in the affable second-in command, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and youngest member in the camp, Chuck (Blake Cooper).
The trajectory is raised higher when Alby steps in to the maze to retrieve the remains of rogue runner he returns injured and in the arms of head ‘maze runner’ Minho (Ki Hong lee). Thomas makes the decision to run after them and things go from bad to worse when all three become trapped and spend the duration of the night trying to outsmart the sinister machines. It’s tentative, but they survive. For Thomas the experience has fuelled an obsession to conquer the maze once and for all but not before the unexpected arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first and only girl who seems to know Thomas from a previous life, peaks Gally’s concerns and ultimately creates a divide.
Most of the film is set in ‘the Glade’ a cubic clearing in the middle of a large moving maze; it’s a far cry from the utopia of Never Never Land and the mischievous playful innocence of Peter Pan – tonally it lends itself towards the allegorical and sinister atmosphere of Lord of the Flies. Superficially it’s reminiscent of the brilliant last quarter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire… (the maze bit of course) and the maze scenes are truly nail-biting stuff.
What happens after… not so much. In the last quarter of the film, chaos ensues and we lose some genuinely likable key characters to the maze by the film’s end; but the disappointing part is the reveal – it’s messy, over the top and lacks any punch that makes you care what happens next. Ironically it’s the ending that the films producers thought was sufficient in setting off the franchise. It worked for The Hunger Games and it’s much more impressive Catching Fire. So welcome to the fold Maze Runner… I’m sure the odds will forever be in your favour.