Friday, November 7, 2014

The Maze Runner Review

Upon seeing the trailer for The Maze Runner (2014) I became really interested in seeing it. The trailer said it was based on a novel, so I looked up the book to learn more about it. As it so happens, this is yet another dystopian survivalist movie based on a Young Adult book trilogy. I've read the Maze Runner trilogy now and taking the books into consideration, the movie did a pretty good job.
Thomas (Dylan O'Brian) wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. He emerges into a world of about 60 teen boys who have learned to survive in a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture and supplies lead by Alby (Aml Ameen) with Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) second in command. A new boy arrives every 30 days. The original group has been in "The Glade" for three years, trying to find a way to escape through the Maze that surrounds their living space. The Maze changes daily and at night is crawling with nightmarish creatures called Grievers. The boys have begun to give up hope. Thomas's curiosity spawns some optimism among the boys except for Gally (Will Poulter) who was suspicious of Thomas from the start. With a fellow Maze Runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee) to help, Thomas sets out to solve the Maze. But then a comatose girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives on the elevator with a strange note, and their world begins to change.
The nature of this story doesn't lend itself to deep characters; every single one of the boys (and Teresa, for that matter) have amnesia. None of them know anything about themselves apart from their first name. This keeps all of these characters from having a complex past to prompt present behaviors. Sure, they have their shticks, but that's pretty much the only thing that defines each of the characters. Thomas is very curious, but seems to be the only one out of 60 boys who have no idea why they are there. Thomas is also a heroic go-getter, but the fact that he's the main hero of the story practically requires that quality of him. Why is he like this? We don't know, and neither does Thomas.
One of my biggest complaints about the books is that the "why" never seems to be addressed in much detail. Thomas wants to know what's going on and the other "Gladers" either tell him they don't know, wouldn't give him a straight answer, or told him it didn't matter. This happened so much throughout the trilogy that by the time I'd finished the last book I still only had a vague idea as to why any of the insane plot actually happened. For the movie, they did explain a little more of the bigger picture at the very end than the book did. This made it slightly more satisfying, but still wide open for a sequel. The other irritating thing the book did was spam the reader with fictional slang used in place of actual profanity. While it was present in the movie, it was used significantly less than it was in the book, thank heavens. Other changes were relatively minor and were reasonably left out in the interest of time.
Teresa is pretty much the only female character in the movie. She plays a pretty important role in the book, but her character is so watered down and made so negligible, I have to wonder why she was included in the movie at all. She wasn't even included as an obligatory love interest; she seems to be there only to cause the boys to roll their eyes when she acts irrational. Teresa isn't even portrayed by a good actress; she's almost like a budget Kristen Stewart.
There is an unexpected moment of theme development shortly before the climax of the movie. It's a short scene where Thomas, Teresa, Newt, and a couple others are talking amongst themselves. They decide that past experiences aren't indicative of future experiences. They also talk about how the present is all that matters; they could stay there, worry, and panic about whether or not their misfortunes will come again, or they could ignore past wrongdoings and focus on what they can do about it right now. Who they were isn't nearly as important as who they are now. This was great and gave the characters a chance to show what makes them tick, it gave some thematic depth to the story, and moved the plot forward as they decide to take action. The movie really needed more moments like this. It was a great scene.
The book focused more on finding clues to solve the elaborate puzzle of The Maze, whereas the movie focuses more on the action while running around in The Maze. There are a LOT of scenes where Thomas is having to squeeze through walls that are closing in to crush him. It's enough to make anyone feel claustrophobic. The action is well choreographed. With shifting walls and Greivers attacking from various directions the action scenes could easily have become disorienting and confusing. But the shots were strung together in such a way that we're able to keep up with the action. The action scenes do lend themselves to some violent imagery. But just as things are about to get brutal, it cuts to another shot or something obscures our view of what could be a grisly scene. It remains safely within its PG-13 rating; I wouldn't worry about showing this to preteens if they really wanted to watch it.
The Maze Runner was better than the book it is based on, but that's not saying a whole lot; I didn't care for the books much. It's almost like The Hunger Games meets Pac-Man. The characters are shallow, some to the point that I wonder why they were included at all. The story is vague and leaves most of the questions it raises unanswered. The visual effects and action were quite good. All in all, it ends up being a decent popcorn flick; good special effects and action, but hardly anything else. This is a renter at most; young teens will probably love it, but anyone else should probably borrow a copy from a friend if you want to see it badly enough.

I've not given the last couple of YA novel movies very good reviews. Apart from The Hunger Games they follow a standardized formula and end up being uninteresting. Do you know of any YA novels out there that breaks the mold and are really good reads? Comment below and let me know!

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