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The Maze Runner

September 19, 2014
The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner is the latest YAYAA — Yet Another Young Adult Adaptation — to hit the screen, and one squarely aimed at the preteen boy market this time. It’s thin on story and awkwardly structured, but it does manage to bring some fun and exciting action.

The biggest innovation here is moving the giant, awkward, expository info-dump from the first twenty minutes of the movie to the last. We come in with the young lead (Dylan O’Brian), who appears in the middle of a walled-off meadow along with a shipment of supplies. He’ll later remember his name is Thomas, but at first he doesn’t even know that much, just like us.

The other boys — and they’re all boys — tell us that they call this area The Glade, and outside the walls is The Maze. Every month a new boy shows up along with some supplies. The boys grow food and make whatever they need beyond the supplies. Every day the fastest and strongest of them run the maze, trying to find a way out. But they have to be back by nightfall, when the door to the maze closes and anyone left inside is stalked by biomechanical nightmares the boys call “grievers”.

What and why the maze is are both unclear until the info-dump at the end, but I warn you it doesn’t make a lick of sense even then. We’ve got a Lord of the Flies style boys-colony story on one side, with leaders Alby (Aml Ameen) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) holding the toughs like Gally (Will Poulter) back from beating up too much on the newbies and providing enough space for the runners — led by Minho (Ki-Hong Lee) — to do their thing. On the other side, we’ve got a puzzle-box mystery with some solid and exciting action sequences. And, to be honest, it’s pretty great — if disposable — fun until the box opens and we have to sit through an interminable sequence of what pass for answers.

The single best choice director Wes Ball made is not going for 3-D. Unlike so many of these films, much of the action takes place in full daylight and the bright, clear shots are undimmed by polarized glasses. He also shoots the action with fewer cuts and more stable shots than the current fashion seems to call for, which makes it easier to follow and more exciting.

The boys’ story plays out with few surprises until a girl shows up. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) upsets the balance, but not in the way we might expect from Twilight or its knock-offs. She’s not dumped into a love triangle, thankfully; if anything the boys’ reaction is less about romance and more along the “girls are icky” line, with Gally among the first to call for her expulsion. But while not all the boys are against the idea of a girl in their midst, they — and the movie — still don’t seem to know what she’s for. Two steps forward; two steps back.

While it’s not without it’s flaws, The Maze Runner does boast some exciting action, and closes a lackluster summer on a slight up note.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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