It’s pretty much inevitable that any post-apocalyptic film based on- young adults will be compared to The Hunger Games franchise. And the latest attempt at muscling in on the action,’ The Maze Runner’, is no different.
Based on the first in the successful series of books by James Dashner, the film opens without much ceremony on Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a teenage boy who wakes up to find himself in a rising elevator, with no memory except of his own name. Once at the top he meets a group of other boys who reveal to him that, just like them, he has been deposited into a completely closed off environment surrounded by gargantuan walls that are part of an elaborate and dangerous maze.
The group has been living in the central area known as “The Glade” for years now, with certain members known as “Runners” entering the maze whenever the door opens to try and look for a way out. Just as the group seems to have given up hope, a mysterious girl (Kaya Scodelario) arrives, leading the rebellious Thomas to try and finally find a way to escape their world.
It’s an intriguing concept right off the bat and to the filmmaker’s credit they muster a lot of tension and exciting action. On top of the fascinating idea of an ever-changing giant maze, we have the inherently absorbing prospect of no-one knowing why they were put in this world or by whom. The film has been described as ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Lost’ and to a certain extent that’s true, with the obvious ‘Hunger Games’ thrown in for good measure. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas and themes we’ve seen before but given a bit of a fresh spin by this unique maze-themed premise.
It’s actually less about the action within the maze itself – which is, predictably, saved until nearer the end – and more about the interaction between the characters, the alliances that form and disagreements that turn certain people into enemies. O’Brien makes for an engaging and compelling lead, acting as our anchor throughout the film and making us actually care about what happens to him, something that’s often missing from these young adult fantasy movies.
We also have the likes of Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, the most likeable character; Dexter Darden as Frypan, the father-like figure of the group; and rising British star Will Poulter who plays the antagonistic Gally, who seems most content to let their relatively peaceful and controlled society stay as it is. It’s a collection of archetypes brought to life with relatively well-drawn characters that are well acted by a capable young cast.
Once we do get to the action the film has been promising through most of its first two acts, it’s both very entertaining and pleasingly creative. The action functions kind of like a video game, with the characters running and jumping as they simultaneously try to solve the various puzzles the maze has to offer. It becomes even more like a game when it comes to the group doing battle against the “Grievers,” spider-like machines that patrol the labyrinthine prison. But it never feels like you’re just watching someone playing a great game but rather first-time director Wes Ball does a very good job of immersing you in the action and the unpredictable world. It’s also surprisingly not a big-budget film; despite its relatively small $34 million cost, it looks fantastic up on the big-screen.
The film isn’t without its fair share of flaws, mainly in the way it sets itself up as the start of a forthcoming franchise. The final revelatory scenes aren’t particularly satisfying in their own right as they take a “just wait till you see the next one!” approach – the sequel is already set for release next year. In that way the film works best on an individual moment-to-moment basis than as a whole. Nevertheless, for the most part, it’s an exciting and compelling watch that does enough to make it stand out from that oh-so-teeming crowd of young adult fantasy movies. Can this truly be the next big thing? Divergent, The Giver and The Hunger Games have all more than thrown their hat in the ring already but ‘The Maze Runner’ is sure enough of its own ideas and plenty slick in presenting them that those other movies may want to watch their backs.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.