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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Maze Runner Review: Thank God, Another Good YA Movie!

The Science Fiction of The Maze Runner ensconces you in enjoyable dystopia.


As I've complained many times in my reviews, the entire offering of movies seems to be at a crossroads. Caught up in bad transitions from the books that made them so popular in the first place, the movies themselves have largely disappointed, plagued by either significant rewrites or love stories with actors I couldn't care less about. Fortunately, The Maze Runner doesn't come close to shorting out its chances for sequels, even though some plot holes are evident.

Set in a dytopian society where only male boys seem to be running things, we learn about the arrival of the newest recuit Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), who like the others has not idea how he got to The Glade, a peaceful wooded area surrounded by the menacing walls of The Maze. Given a monthly ration of food and supplies by an unknown agency, the camp is comprised of both leaders (Aml Ameen) and soldiers (Ki Hong Lee and Will Poulter), as well as younger boys (Blake Cooper) caught up in all the machismo. Thomas has vivid dreams about the people who sent him to The Glade, while the others try to run the shifting Maze in search of a way out. The arrival of the girl Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) throws the all male into a tissy, especially when it's revealed she somehow knows Thomas. Faced with a growing threat beyond the Maze - including machines called Grievers who inject the boys with a venom - the team must work together to find a way out and perhaps meet their makers.

There are two reasons that set The Maze Runner apart from so many horrid YA movies: the first is its smart decision to ditch any sense of a love story from the far more interesting dystopian disaster of future Earth. The idea that desperate people concoct an elaborate plan to save humanity using children is the kind of forward thinking we need in modern plots. The other reason for the movie's success is the decision by Writers Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers to change the ending of the book, something which normally is a death nail for an aspiring tentpole. I won't bore you with the details, but the changes streamline things while ramping things up for future sequels.

Director Wes Ball navigates what could have been a teen frenzy of puberty into an effective team of young actors who are absolutely dedicated to finding a way out of The Glade. O'Brien carries this film through his emotive eyes and stage presence - he's not like most child actors, who are usually prone to over-act. Here O'Brien brings a good mix of pre-planned amnesia and curiosity of the world around him, while the instantly likable Ameen and Cooper round out the well-cast group of thespians. The same goes for Poulter - whom I loved in We're the Millers - who gives evil a face we can both relate to and find ourselves not believing when his deceptive plans are unleashed. Scodelario doesn't figure until near the end of the second act, but her effect is decidely mixed. I'm sure she'll be more involved in future sequels, but for now her arrival and presence adds a needed kick just when the story was beginning to flatten out.

Still there is a lot of maddening moments throughout Maze. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted, never fully explaining why the maze walls shift, how doing so helps the the boys (and girl) assist in saving mankind, and why the Grievers are even a part of the equation, minus the venom-stuff. Clarkson barely registers in the film's final scenes, until we learn about the deceptive plot which the adults have concocted. Finally, there's a sense that a lot of this film got left in the editing bank, making me hope for a director's cut that will better explain some of these concerns. I can't give more than that away, but I hope a second screening might resolve some of that. To admit I might actually pay this time should say something.

With all of this love I'm throwing it, Maze Runner still has its issues. It is the best YA movie since the behemoth Hunger Games, which could either mean a happy accident or the shape of things to come. It's unclear whether Ball will be given a second chance to direct the followup, but I think he deserves it. So much more about The Maze Runner could have spun out of control, leaving the franchise in the same untenable situation as The Mortal Instruments. I guess it will depend as it always does, on whether youth and their families make the trip out to see it. I say take that chance, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

The Maze Runner is rated PG-13 for for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images and has a runtime of 113 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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