Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) awakens inside a rising elevator. He has no idea where he is, how he got there or even who he is. The elevator stops, and the doors open in the middle of a field to the hardened faces of more young men. These boys barely know any more about their situation than this new “Greenie,” except that beyond the towering walls is the maze. And beyond that? No one knows. Who did this to them? And for what reason? All good questions with no good answers. But now that Thomas is here, maybe that’s about to change.
The Maze Runner. Directed by Wes Ball. Written by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin. Based on the novel by James Dashner.
This movie won me over immediately because it throws you right into the middle of the mystery. Thomas wakes up in the elevator with no idea what’s going on, and we’re just as clueless as him (or almost as clueless because we’ve seen the trailer and already have an idea what the movie is about). This keeps us locked in the moment with Thomas. There’s no voiceover giving us background details. Instead we learn every new fact when Thomas does. I just loved the immediacy. And I enjoyed that there was a giant mystery at the heart of this movie. It kept me guessing the entire time. I gobbled up all the action and internal drama as the kids slowly pieced things together.
However, there is a danger when a story relies almost completely on mystery and intrigue as its driving force, namely that the final reveal has to be really good to justify all that suspense. Lost was one of the greatest, most revolutionary TV shows of all time. It was a mystery glued to a riddle on the face of a rubix cube in the middle of a cornfield. And it had really profound character arcs. Yet once I found out how it ended, I was let down. The “answers” just weren’t worth my investment. So as I watched The Maze Runner that was of course a major concern. I don’t want to give anything away, so I will just that we do get answers by the end. Whether you’ll be satisfied by them is up to you. I wasn’t.
Lost had 6 seasons to develop their characters, and it was one of their biggest strengths. The Maze Runner has 113 minutes, and it chooses to devote most of that time to plot over character. Because the boys have no memories of the past, the movie does away with any kind of backstory. All they really have is the present moment, and most of that is focused on survival and escape. Near the start there is a sort of initiation ceremeony that provides us with an idea of the culture they’ve created, and we do learn something about them and their priorities based on the structures they create and how they each contribute to their society. But we don’t get that deep into who they are as individuals. I would have loved more scenes of them being boys. Yeah they’ve had to grow up faster than most young men, but they are still boys, and I wanted more of boys being boys with no parents or girls around. I will say we get a tiny view of that when all of a sudden a girl does appear, but even the new addition of a female is hardly explored in the way you would naturally expect. It’s a missed opportunity.
I can’t say that there were any remarkable performances. Dylan O’Brien managed to evoke some empathy in me even though he lacked complexity. He has a nice, honest face that made it easy to follow him through this adventure. The script just doesn’t give him much to work with. For the most part he’s just an audience proxy because in essence we’re the ones being dropped into the middle of this field, and he simply acts out everything we imagine we’d do in that situation.
It’s quite a beautiful movie. The set pieces were so enjoyable. A lot of thought was given to the kind of structures these boys would have created with their limited amount of tools and resources. I particularly enjoyed the kind of town hall/courthouse they built. They way they constructed it to go below ground level was, for some reason, a pleasant surprise. It showed an unexpected creativity and thoughtfulness on their part.
The maze itself actually hurts the look of the movie. At certain points it looks like an artificial set created for a movie. And then there are brief moments when you’re aware they’re in front of a green screen. But it’s not really a big deal. The scenes in the glade more than than make up for that.
Do I want to see The Maze Runner again?Most likely this is something I’d settle for watching on cable at some point rather than something I’d seek out, that is unless I want a refresher before a sequel comes out, which reminds me:
Since this movie is based on a book trilogy, it ends with a lead-in to a future sequel. And that hurts this movie because we don’t get a truly satisfying ending, just the promise that there may be more satisfaction to come in the next installments.
|Unkown: From IMDB: "Five men wake up in a locked-down warehouse with no memory of who they are. They are forced to figure out who is good and who is bad to stay alive." I confess that I don't completely remember this movie, thus it must not have been very memorable, but the premise still sounds so intriguing. I do remember that it takes place in one setting, so that's an automatic star. Also Jeremy Sisto in this, which is another automatic star. (Buy Unknown on Amazon.com: DVD).|
|Buried: A man wakes up to find himself locked within a coffin. Armed with not much more than a pen, a lighter, and a cell phone, he must secure a ransom in order to be set free. I love this movie, so even though the only thing it really has in common with The Maze Runner is someone waking up in a strange situation, I still want to promote it. (Watch Buried on Amazon.com: Streaming).|
|Cube: Seven strangers awaken in a cubical room. (Noticing a theme yet?) The door from the cube leads to another cubical room. The It's a labyrinth of cubes! Oh and it's filled with deadly traps. If you want a more far out version of Saw, this might do the trick. By the way, Saw is another movie where people wake up in a strange situation. It could easily be a similar recommendation. (Watch Cube on Amazon.com: Streaming).|
|The Langoliers: Strangers on a plane awaken to find that most of the other passengers have disappeared. They manage to land the plane at an airport but find not another soul there. What's happened? Where is everyone? What are the "Langoliers?" Okay, so this isn't really a movie, but a rather cheaply made TV-miniseries based on a Stephen King short story. Still, it's a cool story that the 1996 version of myself very much enjoyed. I doubt it's held up well, but watch it anyway, especially if you miss everyone's favorite cousin: Balki Bartokomous, aka Bronson Pinchot. (Now just to be clear, he doesn't actually play Balki in this miniseries). (Buy The Langoliers on Amazon.com: DVD).|