The Maze Runner (2014)

The Maze RunnerThomas (Dylan O’Brien) enters The Glade through a dark hatch, in a service elevator shared with a small herd of goats. He can’t remember anything, though his fellow Gladers assure him that his name at least will return in time. In the meantime, leader Alby (Aml Ameen) takes him on a tour of the immediate area, explaining that The Glade sits at the centre of an elaborate and so far impenetrable maze which is explored by runners during the day and closed to the community at night — at which time it is patrolled by arachnoid killing machines. Thomas isn’t like the others, however: he’s inquisitive, he dreams of life beyond the perimeter walls and — after entering the maze after hours — becomes the first person to survive a night outside of the The Glade. When a girl (Kaya Scodelario) — the first ever — follows Thomas through the hatch, it becomes clear that things are changing. If they are to embrace that change, however, Thomas and Teresa will first have to convince the more conservative among their ranks.

With Young Adult adaptations continuing to dominate the box office, The Maze Runner is the latest attempt to duplicate the success of The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire. While the box office results will not be known for some time, there’s no denying that Thomas is the most likely contender to Katniss Everdeen’s crown yet, succeeding where the likes of Divergent and The Giver have so far failed in establishing a different and equally dynamic dystopian setting. The characters might not be as well drawn as Katniss and company (though Thomas certainly isn’t without his flaws), but the relatively small scale and uncomplicated premise actually serve in the film’s favour. There is undoubtedly more to the story than we see here, but with four books in James Dashner’s series still to adapt director Wes Ball has wisely left much of it unexplored, ready for the sequels.

Opening with Thomas already in the elevator, Ball forgoes any formal introduction and instead leaves his audience to work things out at the same pace as their protagonist. Information isn’t exactly forthcoming, but what The Maze Runner may lack in psychological complexity or socio-political satire it more than makes up for in visceral action. If you thought the Cornucopia scene from the first Hunger Games film was tough for a 12A you’ll be running to the censors after five minutes in the maze. The opening act isn’t exactly uneventful — Thomas has a number of disagreements with his fellow Gladers, before being set upon by a rabid runner — but once he enters the maze to save Alby and another boy called Minho (Ki Hong Lee) Ball ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels. It’s an astonishing set piece, and subsequent forays into the maze are often as nail-biting as they are breathtaking.

The film has a fantastic aesthetic, and builds an atmosphere which is as fraught as it is fantastical. Despite the film’s relatively modest budget it is utterly convincing — this can be attributed at least in part to the impressive talents of its young cast (particularly O’Brien and Will Poulter as the aggressive Gally) but plaudits must be paid to the sterling efforts of an undoybtedly resourceful special effects team. The maze is quite simply spectacular — epic, imposing, beautiful — and is populated by creatures that genuinely unsettle. At points it feels more like an episode of Lost than your typical Young Adult adaptation, and if anything it’s a shame that more time couldn’t be spent exploring its various sections and uncovering their secrets. The maze is so effective and evocative that you don’t want to leave it behind, particularly as what we see of the outside world through Thomas’ feverish dreams and fractured memories points towards a far more familiar future for the franchise.

Although not without its derivative qualities, The Maze Runner still feels remarkably fresh and exciting. Whether it can sustain a series or not is beside the point — for now it is simply one of the best science fiction movies of the year.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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