The Maze Runner
20th Century Fox // PG-13 // September 19, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted September 18, 2014
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As long as film adaptations of young adult (YA) novels continue to be successful, they will continue to come in waves. The Hunger Games has its own themes and messages for its audiences to explore, which primarily dive into various aspects of social commentary. While The Maze Runner has its own statements to make, it's a much more straight-forward take, which doesn't necessarily discuss a class system quite as much as most other YA adaptations. Rather, it focuses on simpler themes, such as friendship, family, trust, and responsibility. It's just a shame that it just isn't nearly as captivating as The Hunger Games, or even Divergent.

After waking up in a metal cage, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) has lost all of his memories. He finds himself in a community of boys, who have all previously endured the very same occurrence. They discover that they're trapped inside by a maze that surrounds them from all sides. Thomas must learn to join the team of "runners" in order to aid in finding a way out, otherwise, they might be spending the remainder of their lives in a state of fearful isolation.

While this community has quite a large number of characters, the film keeps its focus centered on Thomas and a select few others. Since none of these characters can remember anything about their lives, we're discovering them while they're also finding themselves. Given this situation, The Maze Runner requires an extremely small amount of character disposition. The small amount that we get is from stories shared of what has been experienced within this community. Thomas himself proves to be a relatively uninteresting character with an extremely predictable path that couldn't possibly twist or turn in any surprising direction. Perhaps one of the most intriguing characters is Alby (Ami Ameen), who is the first of the individuals to find himself within these lands without a single memory. He has the most amount of history, although much of it isn't shared. Rather, The Maze Runner remains focused on Thomas' relationship to second-in-command, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and a relatively new recruit, Chuck (Blake Cooper). When looking at these relationships, that between Thomas and Chuck is the most genuine thing that this film has to offer. Yet, the plot never truly utilizes that to its advantage in any meaningful way.

Since there aren't many characterizations, the filmmakers spend more time introducing us to the world in which we'll be exploring. We learn more about what the boys have discovered about the maze and its sinister secrets, as well as some myths created by those within the community regarding what they think is out there. Director Wes Ball and writers Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin successfully introduce us to a rather intriguing world in which we are undeniably curious about. Once Thomas finally gets the opportunity to witness the maze for himself, audiences also get exposure to this mysterious puzzle. These are surely the most entertaining moments that the film has to offer. They offer different obstacles around every corner, making it quite entertaining to watch as Thomas navigates the every-changing maze, if he hopes to make it out alive. There's a lot of running, jumping, and sliding, which truly make for a decent "cat-and-mouse" game between the protagonist and what he must face within the walls of the maze.

The third act of The Maze Runner faces some major plot developments, which certainly escape the confines of the story. While it's important for more recent YA adaptations to think outside of the box, plot beats shouldn't feel so removed from the overall picture. A colleague of mine suggested that they often feel similar to The Hive from Resident Evil. This comment isn't without its validity, as it does seem more than a bit familiar. Nevertheless, the film runs away from the introduction that it created of a fascinating world in order to provide a climax that hardly feels earned. Logic is entirely ignored, as gaping plot holes are easily spotted throughout the picture's final act. Since these are the "reasonings" for why a given outcome has occurred, it can be difficult to accept the film's disappointing explanations. By the time that the credits start rolling, there are sure to be some sighs and groans.

Even though the third act completely falls apart, the performances remain relatively stable throughout the entire running time. There aren't any award-worthy representations here, although they work for the material. Dylan O'Brien is believable as Thomas. He works as the lead protagonist, as he brings a sense of honesty to the character. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is entertaining as Newt, as he delivers a large amount of the material with confidence. Will Poulter delivers a very different role as Gally. Some audiences might have some difficulty adjusting to the drastic role change, although he's still entertaining to watch on screen. Ki Hong Lee proves to be the most wooden in the role of Minho, a fellow runner. Whether it's the delivery of the dialogue or the lines themselves is irrelevant, as this character simply doesn't fit. The remainder of the supporting performances are good enough, although the strongest performances are those delivered by O'Brien and Brodie-Sangster.

Even though this is director Wes Ball's feature debut, he clearly has an eye for visuals. His style proves to be inspired, as it successfully brings this world to life, and creates a sense of curiosity in the viewer. We want to explore this environment just as much as Thomas, providing Ball with a large amount of opportunity for an original atmosphere. Once Thomas is in the maze, we're treated to some well-constructed chase sequences that are sure to keep your eyes glued to the screen. However, it's a shame that you might find some of it difficult to see, as there are moments when the picture becomes so dark, that it becomes hard to see what's going on. Even so, the audio design is massively successful. The audio delivers on the clarity of the high end, as well as the monstrous amount of tight rumble in the low end.

With so many YA adaptations being made, the films must have something to make it stand out from the rest. While Wes Ball clearly has a talented hand, the source material hinders his abilities. A couple of the character relationships are relatively intriguing, and the world itself is certainly captivating. Yet, Thomas isn't fascinating enough of a character to keep the film moving. All of the setting up is interesting, although it all falls apart within the duration of the third act. Little makes sense, as we're expected to make monumental logical leaps in order to be convinced of the story's beats. The film simply lacks the conviction that's held by The Hunger Games, and to a lesser extent, Divergent. The Maze Runner doesn't do enough to stand out from the competition. Rent it.



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