Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lackluster Labyrinth: Why It’s Hard To Care About The Maze Runner!

The Good: Eventually turns into an interesting concept . . .
The Bad: . . . it takes SO long to get there, Mediocre characters, Uninspired acting
The Basics: The Maze Runner fails to thrill as young men (and a single girl) try to escape mechanized bugs and a maze that is testing something about them.

Last weekend, my wife and I were on vacation and we took a day to watch some movies in the theater. Neither of us got to see our first choice (she wanted to watch The Maze Runner, but did not want to be around people; I wanted to see The Zero Theorem, but had no idea how to get to the one art theater in the city that was showing it). So, it took us an additional week to take in The Maze Runner. My wife wanted to see The Maze Runner because she had read the novel series upon which the film was based. At this point, following the lackluster Divergent (reviewed here!) and the equally unimpressive Vampire Academy film (reviewed here!), I was pretty much tapped out for any interest in films based on young adult science fiction.

My indifference to The Maze Runner did not diminish as the film began. One of the difficult aspects of being dropped into a setting with new characters is developing any regard for the characters. The first duty of the writer/director is to get viewers to care about the characters in their new, fantastic setting. In The Maze Runner, the protagonist is Thomas and he lacks any initially distinctive quality to make the viewer care about who he is or what he is going through. Even Katniss Everdeen had more of a hook when she exhibited a willingness to perform acts of self-sacrifice at the outset of The Hunger Games than Thomas does in the first third of The Maze Runner.

A young man finds himself in an elevator, remembering nothing about his life before, nor even his name. He is trapped in a field, surrounded by massive walls and other young men and boys. The one opening in the wall, he is told, leads into a giant maze, from which there appears to be no escape. Alby and Newt explain to the new arrival how once a month, a new young man is sent into the glade and the group lives there. Each day a few boys go into the maze to chart it, but they live in fear of staying in the maze at night (after the doors close) because Grievers sting anyone in the maze at night, leading to insanity and death.

After a particularly poignant display of what happens when someone is stung by a Griever – namely a stung boy viciously attacking Thomas (as he has come to remember his name) – Thomas enters the maze when Alby and Minho are not able to make it out of the maze before the doors close for the night. With Alby wounded, Thomas and Minho string him up with vines for the night before they are chased by a Griever. Thomas manages to kill the Griever, but it leads to another boy, Gally, getting gravely concerned about the changes in the environment. To punctuate his fear, the elevator arrives again, this time with a girl from Thomas’s dreams. As Thomas learns more about the nature of the maze and the outer sections of it, he and Teresa discover they are tied together by more than just Thomas’s dreams. As they investigate the dead Griever and the nature of the venom, Alby is cured and his memories seem to trigger a Griever attack on the village. In struggling to survive the maze, Thomas, Teresa and the other survivors in the glade become aware of the nature of the test they are in and how it fits into a larger, wounded, world.

The Maze Runner is like The Lord Of The Flies without the shipwreck and it does not truly begin to get going in a compelling way until just over the one hour mark when Thomas enters the maz with Minho as a maze runner (mapper of the maze). When the part of the Griever they recovered begins clicking, it is the first moment in The Maze Runner that actually intrigued me enough to actually care. Given that is the third day of Thomas’s stay in the glade, it was hard to care at that point in the movie.

To be fair to The Maze Runner, from the moment sector 7 and the blades are introduced, director Wes Ball manages to create a creepy and tense film. From the shifting of the maze to the Griever attack on the glade, The Maze Runner picks up and becomes watchable. The special effects team on The Maze Runner makes the Grievers awesome to watch – though they seem like a mechanized version of the Alien 3 xenomorph – and the movie works itself to a climax that actually made me want to know where the series would go, but objectively the film stretches far too long before it gets to its point.

The Maze Runner has some gaping holes – like why the Grievers stop their assault on the boys in the glade when they seem to be pretty efficient at wiping the young people out – and its lack of interesting or likable characters makes the movie drag for the majority of the film. Thomas is not an impressive protagonist and the plot-heavy story does not pop because the characters are not easy to get invested in.

None of the performances in The Maze Runner are particularly compelling. While Patricia Clarkson appears for a few key scenes, she is not in The Maze Runner enough to justify seeing it for her. The usually talented Thomas Brodie-Sangster is similarly relegated to a minor supporting role that does not make use of his talents and Will Poulter is pigeonholed into yet another role where he plays an asshole that viewers are just going to hate. The young cast is led by Dylan O’Brian who plays Thomas with such a lack of spark that one has to wonder what the casting criteria was and who he beat for the part. The unimpressive performances make it hard to emotionally invest in characters who are only minimally defined.

The result is another film franchise with a stunted beginning that entirely hinges on the base of fans from the book turning up in droves to boost its grosses. That is the only audience that will likely find The Maze Runnera worthwhile film on its own.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
Hit By Lightning
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
The Zero Theorem


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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