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The Maze Runner | Review

Mazed and Confused: Ball’s Lusterless Debut Another Dystopic YA Derivative

Wes Ball The Maze Runner PosterPretty teenagers that survive the apocalypse are sure going to have it tough. Or maybe all these YA geared portrayals of life in the reconstruction period wrapped in video game gloss will serve as subconscious instruction manuals for today’s teens that may eventually be tomorrow’s adults dealing with the tail end of human civilization. If that’s the case, perhaps these sanitized depictions are doing more damage by being crafted solely for the delicate palette of today’s teen entertainment sensibilities. As could be predicted, the strongest aspect of visual and digital effects artist Wes Ball’s foray into directing with franchise courting The Maze Runner, are the film’s visual effects. Given the circumstances and the parameters administered, the look of the film is just fine. But, as often is the case with these types of motion pictures, logic and any adherence to common sense falls to the wayside.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) awakens in a metal lift, rising upward into the midst of a clearing in a forest surrounding by towering walls. His memory seems to have been erased and he flees like a wild animal into the new environment, stumbling into a community of other young adolescent males who explain that every month in the “Glade,” the box delivers a new young man into the community. Every morning, a portion of the wall opens up and those Gladers that have earned the status of ‘runner’ enter it to map out possible exits, of which one has not been found in three years. But after the appearance of Thomas, who seems to have what it takes to be a new runner, constants in the Glade begin to change, such as the boys never had to worry about being stung by the large hybrid creatures that are part organic and mechanical organism during the day, until now. As Thomas learns their rituals, he butts heads with the Glade’s senior member, Gally (Will Poulter), who had to spend an entire month by himself in the Glade before another boy showed up. When a young girl named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) becomes the next (and, as a note on her personage denotes, the last) tribute, Thomas decides to defy all of the Glade rules and find a way out of the deadly maze that’s been ensnaring them.

It doesn’t take much to figure out that these boys are being watched in some sort of grand experiment, a design of course duly outlined to quell our curiosity in the final frames. It also shamelessly sets itself up for the expected sequel (should box office profits deem that necessary), unsurprising if you realize that this is the first chapter in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. As we plod through the necessary formula, which seems to have been inspired by Lord of the Flies this time around, it becomes increasingly distracting that all these bright young boys look so polished and clean. Perhaps one of their lot is an experienced hair stylist and we just didn’t have enough screen time to address him?

Also, personal hygiene isn’t logically examined either, and you’ll balk at the fact that Thomas never receives a costume change or a bath after a very strenuous several days in the Glade. Also, it’s irritating that film depicting adolescent characters also feels like it was written by an uninterested band of them. At one point the wide eyed Scodelario muses, “Do you think we were put here for a reason?”

Those expecting a meaty supporting role for the wonderful Patricia Clarkson will be sorely disappointed. She shows up for a two-punch twist at the finale, and it would be unfair to say anything much about her should we continue through this straightforward maze. However, if the world were in extreme peril and the powers that be could logically see every movement of a group of boys stuck in the woods, it wouldn’t look anything like this. Beyond Ball’s coup at scoring a cameo from Clarkson, the rest of the cast is incredibly boorish.

As the sole female presence, Scodelario feels wasted, especially if you’ve seen her capabilities in Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights or the delightfully strange The Truth About Emanuel. Dylan O’Brien of Jon Kasdan’s The First Time is earnest to a fault, saddled into a cardboard matinee calling card that’s reminiscent of watching the utterly boring John Gavin. Will Poulter, the teenage son from We’re the Millers, gets to play a different kind of doofy here, and proves to be the screenplay’s weakest bid at dramatic tension leading up to the inevitable windup.

Since the first The Hunger Games premiered, we seem to finally be reaching the low hanging branches of these types of dystopic derivatives (because, please don’t forget, Hunger Games is an amalgamation of a variety of vintage texts as well) with The Maze Runner, which has brought a lethal, humdrum aura of routine to the last bastions of humanity.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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