Review: The Maze Runner

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Adaptions of young adult novels seems to have been an obsession of Hollywood’s for years now. Of course, the obvious problem with this is a huge market saturation, similar perhaps to what we’re seeing with superhero films. That’s the ultimate downfall of The Maze Runner. It’s filled with a generic blandness: it doesn’t do anything particularly offensive but there’s literally nothing memorable about it.

The source material is reasonably sound; the original novel isn’t as woeful as previous young adult bestsellers like Divergent. The Maze Runner revolves around a group of boys trapped inside an area known as “the glade” which is surrounded by a giant maze. It’s an intriguing premise that serves to create some enjoyable scenes – the constantly shifting maze does its best to make escape impossible.

If you’re a novel purist that demands adaptions be as faithful as possible, then perhaps give The Maze Runner a miss. The final destination is the same but the journey is almost completely different. It’s strange that the trio of screenwriters decided to change so much seeing as James Dashner’s book was so well received. That’s not to say these changes are bad, in fact they’re rather interesting with an almost Lord of the Flies-situation being set up, but that is disappointingly short lived and quickly abandoned.

The Maze Runner is pretty action packed, to the point of fault actually: rarely does the movie slow down for breath. Director Wes Ball (a strange choice for this project) struggles a little with some of the action sequences; the overuse of close-up shots is at times jarring and in one case near nausea-inducing.

Credit must however be given to the dark tone presented. The characters are in an almost hopeless situation and this is reflected by both the score and the cinematography. With many films in the genre choosing to focus heavily on a teenage romance, it’s refreshing here for the main theme to be survival. The small strands of romance that developed in the original novel are largely glossed over in favour of more dramatic, and frankly more interesting affairs.

But in terms of characterization, The Maze Runner is concerningly weak. With a sequel already confirmed and a trilogy of books in the series the lack of interesting or compelling characters will surely catch up with the franchise – if it hasn’t already. The lead role of Thomas is handed to Dylan O’Brien, who is capable enough, but the script gives him very little to work with. Thomas is a bland protagonist that seems to never put a foot wrong and is a natural leader. There’s nothing that makes him a three dimensional character; he lacks any personality traits that make him remotely flawed.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a lot of British talent (using that word very loosely). Alby the leader of the glade is portrayed by Aml Ameen who faces a similar issue to O’Brien in that Alby’s character is simply not developed. Thomas Sangster plays Newt, the second in command, who adds absolutely nothing to the film.

The only characters that get any real development are Gally (Will Poulter) and Chuck (Blake Cooper). Will Poulter was the wrong choice for the character of Gally, but the screenplay is adapted around this and Gally is much less vicious than he was in the novel. Blake Cooper is perfectly cast as the vulnerable Chuck and is perhaps the only character who we are able to care about.

The sequel-baiting is ramped up as the film accelerates into its finale, which leads to a rather unfulfilling conclusion that raises far more questions than answers. Leaving the cinema, it was clear to me that The Maze Runner is ultimately a “been there done that” collection of genre tropes.

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