If movies were puzzles, this would ironically be one of the easiest to solve.
Despite the promise of The Maze Runner‘s seemingly enigmatic title, the movie (and the story from which it is adapted) takes the path most travelled for its young-adult dystopian genre. Unsurprisingly, for anyone who has heard at least two plotlines from this genre, the movie is very straightforward.
But what gives The Maze Runner its tiny bit of salvation and freshness, and helps it avoid the fate of the lazily predictable and ironically titled Divergent, is simply a matter of testosterone.
MINI-SPOILERS MARK: minor plot details discussed beyond this point. No major spoilers revealed.
16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up with no memories of his past – save for his name – in the Glade, a grassy and semi-forested clearing of land located in the middle of a giant maze. The Glade is populated by teenage boys, also with no memories of their past, led by Alby (Aml Ameen) and his deputy, Newt (renowned British former-child actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the Henley shirt-clad community has unsuccessfully attempted to escape the maze for three years. To make matters worse, doors around the Glade close every night and man-killing monsters called Grievers are unleashed into the maze. When Alby is rendered incapable of maintaining command and Grievers begin to penetrate the Glade, a power struggle emerges between the conservative and overly cautious Gally (Will Poulter) and the inquisitive Thomas, who wants to quickly find an escape, or literally die trying. With the arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first female and last newcomer to enter the Glade, evidence of her pre-existing relationship with Thomas leads everyone to question Thomas’ real role in their entrapment.
If The Maze Runner were the first movie of its kind, it might have been pretty memorable. But unfortunately, like its protagonist, it arrives late in Hollywood’s saturated YA dystopian novel adaptation scene. It has nothing we haven’t seen or cannot predict, which is a crucial shortcoming for a movie about solving the puzzle of your life, multiple puns intended.
In all honesty and with a pinch of leniency, the movie’s plot line would be best described as “terribly typical”. In a post-apocalyptic dystopia, the naturally inquisitive and dissatisfied teenage protagonist challenges the system. Will is that protagonist, Gally is that system, and the maze and the reasons behind it are that dystopia. When the truth is revealed at the end, what is meant to be the twist is so overused that it only serves to further extend the list of ways in which The Maze Runner loyally conforms to its genre. The only twists and turns that can be found are in the physical maze, but they are insignificant in the plot, where it matters just as much.
By wiping out the characters’ memories and, consequently, their back-stories, The Maze Runner has virtually no character development. Sadly, this undermines the moments that are meant to be emotional or thrilling; it is hard to feel sad or worried for the potential loss of a character when you don’t really care whether he survives or not. It is also a stretch for us to feel a genuine connection to characters whose depth is correlated with their memory span, admittedly on no fault of their own.
But, in light of this genre’s current trendiness in Hollywood (thanks to The Hunger Games) and the resultant overflow of such movies on the big screen, The Maze Runner does actually have something relatively new and fresh to offer. If the gender distribution of its cast was not an already obvious sign, The Maze Runner is a guy’s movie, and this goes a long way to help it stand out against the more female-oriented The Hunger Games and Divergent.
Beyond the simple fact that the protagonist is male, The Maze Runner focuses on what guys want to see; it concerns itself heavily with the main action – in this case, running. From the get go, it’s all about running for answers, running for an exit, and running from things that want to eat you. It is commendable that the movie delivers on the “runner” aspect of its title, and guys would no doubt appreciate this. Male viewers will also heave a sigh of relief that The Maze Runner does away with the drama of romance and jealousy. With that in mind, it is easy to see how The Maze Runner would appeal more to guys than any of the earlier movies in this genre – yes, even The Hunger Games.
Long story short, The Maze Runner runs on plenty of pre-existing material, which is not a crime in itself, except that the movie does nothing special with said material. It wouldn’t take much time or effort for viewers to figure out where the maze is leading to, literally and metaphorically speaking. But the adventure of running for your life in a giant, changing puzzle provides just enough action that might entertain some viewers.
Rating: 2.0/5 (TALK-o-meter: “That’s a thumbs down, Gladiator-style.”)