If The Maze Runner was any other kind of movie, a romance perhaps, it would have played like a generous meeting between Survivor and The Bachelorette, and Teresa, the bachelorette, would have been absolutely spoiled for choice. Spread out before her, in a glade encased by four monolithic walls, is a platter of strapping young men. All sweaty and dirty from working in the fields. All handy at certain domestic tasks, like cooking, assembling makeshift shelters, concocting hearty beverages, chopping some wood. All without a single lecherous bone in their body. 30-odd boys. 1 girl. No whistling. No groping. Not even a flirty wink. They are Hollywood’s poster boys for chivalry and, as it turns out, celibacy. But Teresa doesn’t have time for the throes of love either; she’s too busy running along with the thrilling plot, which seems desperate to reveal all its secrets before the audience grows tired.
It caught me a little too late.
The Maze Runner reminds me very much of Trance (2013). Not its plot, its selfishness. These are two movies that build up their mysterious premises with relentless tenacity in a way to get their viewers inescapably hooked, and then cram circumlocutory revelations into their climaxes that betray all they (and we) worked so hard to accomplish.
Let me give you a taste of this movie’s letdowns. Much of the action takes place inside the Glade, an idyllic squared Eden that doubles as a prison for all our heroes and our one heroine. They have all woken up to find themselves trapped here, arriving by elevator freight one at a time each month. They don’t know how they got here. They don’t know who they were before they were sent here. They don’t know how to get out. The Glade is surrounded by concrete walls that reach high up into the sky. These double as doors to the other side, we learn, which is a gigantic maze that alters its configuration every night and unleashes monstrous grotesques to patrol its corridors. “No one’s ever survived a night in the maze”, we are warned.
This is great stuff. Director Wes Ball sets the tone of his first two acts confidently in the darkest corner of the room, populated by shadows and moving blurs. The Glade looks peaceful in the day, which it is, but transforms into a swamp of dread and fear as the sun disappears. We know as much about the other side as the boys in the film do, which works very well. And the maze is really quite impressive. It’s not natural, or even supernatural, like in the Harry Potter movies. It is manufactured, which means people have put a lot of time and energy into its construction, which means it should serve a grand purpose, akin to The Great Pyramids. This is what I was expecting. I was expecting to be wowed by a revelation that pays homage to the grandiose of this maze. But when all was finally unveiled, my first thought was: Is that it? Is that why they built the maze? Does it defend the amount of preparation and labour that went into it? Surely there must have been a simpler, more cost-efficient option.
Of course I will not tell you what the maze’s purpose is; some viewers — especially the adolescent female demographic — will no doubt think it all makes sense and the maze’s arduous existence is completely justified, but it didn’t quite work for me. A cog was missing. It’s like if Khufu had ordered the construction of his Great Pyramid to serve as his private study — it’s just not worth it.
Never mind. I digress. A lot of viewers will be enthralled by this movie; a lot already have been. Praise has gone to Ball’s dark tone, the effectiveness of his visual effects and the quality of his actors, all of which I too commend. Dylan O’Brien makes a confident and smart hero, and he’s fortunate to be surrounded by supporting players who are able to distinguish intelligence from bravery. The dullest boy is played by Will Poulter, who sort of has to shift into a gear that remains stuck in Needless Counterpoint. Remember Dwayne T. Robinson in Die Hard (1988)? Poulter could be playing his grandson.
Kaya Scodelario plays Teresa, the one and only girl. She doesn’t do much, neither is she all that necessary. She is there because the screenplay needs a female presence, and Scodelario is pretty. She arrives at the movie with a note that reads: She is the last one forever. Considering the boys have been isolated in the Glade for 3 years and have no way of getting out, and none of them think to make a move on Teresa, they’d have to either be impotent or gay. Unfortunately The Maze Runner doesn’t tell us which one it is.
Best Moment | To be fair, some of the chase sequences that take place in the maze are quite entertaining.
Worst Moment | Will Poulter’s irritating character. Or the ambiguous ending.