September 19, 2014
After the current trend set by films like "Hunger Games", "Divergent", and "The Giver", "The Maze Runner" is yet another film derived from a young-adult post-apocalyptic science fiction novel. The book was written by James Dashner, published in October 2007, followed by two sequels in its trilogy: "The Scorch Trials" and "The Death Cure". I haven't read the books yet, so I will just be judging the film as it is.
The film starts with a boy who wakes up in a rapidly-rising elevator, which opened in an outdoor camp of teenage boys called the Glade. The boy eventually recalls that his name was Thomas, but nothing else from his past. The Glade was surrounded by a giant maze which the other boys had been trying to figure out for the three years that they have been placed there. To make matters more complicated, the maze changes its configuration every night. Furthermore, unseen deadly spider-like creatures called "Grievers" stalk within the maze. So far, the boys learn to co-exist peacefully with the maze and each other. That is, until Thomas arrives.
The confined situation of the teenage boys trying to survive with each other in the Glade without any adult supervision is very much reminiscent of a much earlier young adult classic novel (by William Golding, 1954) and its film versions (1963 and 1990), "Lord of the Flies." We also see here the usual ingredients in this genre: the enclosed arena, the stringent rules, the unknown outer limits, rebelling against establishment.
I did not know ANY of the lead actors by name, uncommon for summer blockbusters. There may be familiar faces but they were not household names. The lead actor Dylan O'Brien does well in his role as Thomas. He was able to get us rooting for him, with just the right touch of mystery. I was glad to see an Asian actor Ki Hong Lee in a major role as the original runner Minho. I just don't know if his book character was as non-proactive as it was portrayed on screen. Will Poulter's unusual facial features and expressions make him effective as antagonist Gally.
I have to say though that the action sequences were done quite well. The running within the maze scenes were all quite exciting and very entertaining to watch. However, after all the excellent suspense and tension built up in the first two-thirds of the film, the hanging ending could be quite a big disappointment.
Nothing really gets explained clearly. Why are these boys really brought into the Glade? Were they really ever supposed to get out of there? What does the unexpected arrival of a girl named Teresa in the Glade signify? Who is this "Big Brother"-like lady in a white coat, Ava Paige? Who is Thomas, really? "The Maze Runner" felt like an incomplete film. This does make the sequels essential for those who are interested enough to see the whole story through.
Honestly, after the excellence of the "Hunger Games" film franchise with its fiery lead star Jennifer Lawrence, all of these similar genre films that followed its lead already pale in comparison. There are just too many of them are being made into films almost simultaneously. For me at this point in time, "The Maze Runner" just felt like yet another young adult dystopian film too many. 6/10.