Sunday, December 14, 2014

Film Review: The Maze Runner (2014)

Copyright: 20th Century Fox
Wes Ball, who directed this movie, plays his first cards with a lot of style, and also some guts. He doesn’t go the way I expected him to, opening his film with some kind of an info dump. He stripped away almost everything, and opted for presenting a completely bare, almost raw experience.

A young man wakes up in a middle of a field called the Glade, surrounded by boys of different age. He lost all of his memories, but immediately recognizes that others are organized in Lord of the Flies kind of society, but only this one lives in relative harmony. 

The only problem is that they are surrounded by huge walls, and the only way out of this place is through the Maze, an incredible, constantly changing structure that is full of dangerous creatures.

With this minimal verbal setting, the film drives on, basing itself on experience, not knowledge. The audience gets to find out new things along with the main character Thomas, which feels very organic. This is how he gradually learns the power balance in the Glade, shared between a teenage version of hawks, doves and owls archetypes, which differ in their approach to social structure and governance. But at the same time, all strive for the exploration of the Maze and hope to find a way out.

Played by convincing young actors, primarily Dylan O'Brien as Thomas, but also Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter, The Maze Runner movies keeps its traction for almost its entire duration. Because of this, it manages to come off as a serious film, clear of many young adult tropes that saturate films like those in the Hunger Game series.

While The Maze Runner 2014 is basically built on the same teenage angst-leaden material, it strips it down to a much emptier space, where it’s easier to be drawn into the story, and where there are also fewer deterrents like shabby romance subplots. Instead, Ball chose to focus on camaraderie and friendship, which is very refreshing. In this aspect Maze Runner is even more successful than Ender's Game, a film that was supposed to be mostly about a boy's dedication to his friends. The only substantial flaw in this adventure film is its corporate designed ending, which jams a generic Sci-Fi explanation (using, ironically, an info dump method) into an emotional and violent outburst, resulting in an overflow of sappy feelings which Ball so successfully avoided up to that point.

This marketing-research powered mud pie of an ending is additionally enhanced with an idiotic order for the audience to come back to the movie theaters because there is a second part coming our way. In it, a character pronounces a line straight from early James Bond villain textbook, which was designed (I guess) to intrigue the audience and keep it guessing, but fails to do everything except seem silly. This extremely sour cherry on the top of that mud pie really spoiled my solid experience of the film, even more because it was a completely unnecessary move.

Without that crippling last 10 minutes, Maze Runner could have made the best young adult adaptation of 2014.