Another teen dystopian thriller has hit the theaters by the name of “The Maze Runner,” attempting to ride the coattails of series like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” This trend got stale for me pretty quickly after seeing “Divergent,” but didn’t affect my expectations walking into the film; as someone who hadn’t read the book, I had no prior knowledge of the series. Since I can’t speak on the source material in comparison, there is a heavy reliance on the film to provide information and answers to the audience’s potential questions. Instead, the writers offer few answers in one of the most convoluted endings ever in an attempt to make me show up for the sequel. There’s a pretty glaring flaw in this plan: they forgot to make a good movie for which I would actually want to see a sequel.
Right from the start, the film begins posing questions it has no interest in answering. The main character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), wakes up in an elevator with absolutely no memories or recollection of where he is. When his ride comes to a stop, he finds himself in a glade greeted by a group of kids. Thomas learns there is a door that stays open all day, leading to a maze, and closes at night. “Runners” are the designated maze explorers whose goal is to map the maze and find a way out. Runners are at great risk because creatures called “grievers” will attack those who enter the maze, and their sting will make victims go rabid. Thomas makes friends with Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), the right-hand man to Alby (Aml Ameen), the leader of the glade. Alby is important because we learn that a new person has been sent up the elevator every month for the past three years. Alby was the first one there, meaning he had to survive alone for a month. I really wish they would have spent more time on Alby. His struggles made him the most interesting character in the glade, but they toss him aside by giving him an illness that debilitates him for the majority of the film.
Conflict in the glade starts developing between Thomas and Gally (Will Poulter), the sheriff in the glade. Gally doesn’t trust Thomas, and wants to punish him for entering the maze without being a runner, even though it was to save Alby’s life. Thomas is also suspiciously attacked by a rabid griever victim in the middle of the forest, making Gally question why he was targeted. While the residents are arguing about the changing dynamics of the glade, the elevator arrives again, this time bringing the first girl ever to the glade, with her a note saying “This is the last one ever.” I have to give the writers props for not forcing a love interest between this new girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and Thomas. At the same time, she felt pretty useless to the story, other than that she brought two vials of antidote that cure the grievers’ sting, and that she has vague memories of Thomas. What could have been used as an opportunity to develop the mystery felt more like a contrived plot device to get things moving again.
The biggest problem I had with this film was the lack of subtlety; everything was so blatant and in your face, and there was no room for an atmosphere to develop. When an entire movie relies on the mystery behind this behemoth labyrinth, there should be an atmosphere to match. It should make the viewer guess what exactly the grievers are. Maybe the maze toys with people’s minds and makes them believe that grievers are watching them. This would add a psychological aspect to the horror of being trapped in a maze, and is the direction I thought they would go. Instead, they throw in these stupid spider cyborgs that poison the children with their sting. The grievers were laughable and completely took me out of the experience, especially when there were so many more interesting directions to take it. This is a teen movie, the main audience for horror movies, and they barely played up that aspect at all.
The premise was honestly really interesting. The implications of a group of kids locked inside a labyrinth with a newcomer every month could make for interesting drama and power dynamics between the new and old residents of the glade. What we get is boring diplomacy and contrived conflict between characters. Gally does nothing but whine the entire movie about how Thomas is changing things, and every character serves no purpose other than to tag along with Thomas whenever he wants the plot to progress. None of the actors did a particularly bad job either, in fact I didn’t really notice any instances of the actors ruining the immersion. It was usually shallow writing or poor CGI that bothered me.
I have no intention of seeing the sequel to “The Maze Runner.” The film failed to succeed on any level with me and where the writers attempted to create mystery, they created frustration. I wasn’t eager for answers because I had little reason to care, but I still expected them to be presented. Instead I was presented with an ending that had me walking out of the theater groaning instead of wanting more. This is just another teen-centric derivative film that attempts to make things interesting with a science fiction edge but forgets everything that makes a film interesting.