The Maze Runner (2014) – Review

Directed by Wes Ball
Written by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T S Nowlin from James Dashner
Starring Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter
 Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.

After failing to catch this in its first few days of release, despite personally booking a spot to see it, I had resigned myself, quite happily, to missing it altogether until it reached my attention upon its DVD release. Why this lacklustre attitude? Well, if I’m honest, I expected to be as taken by this as I have been with all of The Hunger Games movies so far. I am not, after all, a young adult. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deem this as any less worthy of my attention, it’s just that I already knew prior to sitting down to see it, that I was not a member of the target audience, just an investor of time and money in order to ensure entertainment for others and subsequently, peace and quiet.
As it happened, The Maze Runner became this weeks’ visit to the local cinema with my kids in tow. It was a choice between this and those Ninja Turtles, so whilst not overly anticipating the film, there was clearly a silver lining at work in some small way, at least, when the vote from those nearest and dearest to me opted for this instead of those heroes in a half shell. I have taught them well, clearly.
Adapted from the very successful novel by James Dashner (I had already bought the book for my eldest son more than a year ago, who managed to not only not read it, but also lose his copy), the story is the first installment in a trilogy of books (the second film, The Scorch Trials, is out in September 2015) that concerns itself with the initial incarceration of a group of boys in the Glade, surrounded by a constantly shifting stone maze that if entered, is littered with interesting ways to get eaten or mangled or just plain squished. Nice. Good old-fashioned family viewing then.
Conveniently for the plot, all of the boys in the Glade have no memory of their previous lives and can barely remember anything more than their name. Except for the latest arrival, Thomas. He has odd dreams that suggest something more sinister about him, not to mention the ability to whip these previously frustrating sheep in boys clothing that he has been placed amongst into enough of a frenzy to actually stand up and fight for their escape. Seems obvious enough when you’ve been surrounded by walls hundreds of feet high for three years, but hey-ho, sometimes you just need a shove. An encouraging prod never hurt anyone, eh?
But the maze is, as previously mentioned, not a nice place to get stuck in for the night, as many have previously discovered as no-one that has ever been in there overnight has ever returned, making those left behind curious and wary in almost equal measure.
Have a quick look around the internet and you will be not too surprised to learn that the story has been likened to Lord of the Flies, as the environment and social unrest amongst the group of boys is palpable, despite the laws they have created to suggest that they should all protect one another. When the chips are down, however, it seems they are not too backward in coming forward when it comes to excommunicating those that are seemed incapable of contributing. Labyrinth is also mentioned, not least because of the maze element that’s employed in both productions.
For a ‘young adult’ production, it avoids falling into the many stereotypes that its counterparts deliberately make use of, like pointless romance and cheesy dialogue. In fact, the script is very impressive and suggests a reluctance to be labelled in the same category as the likes of Divergent and The Hunger Games. The action sequences are thrilling, inventive and delivered often enough to keep those just old enough to watch a 12A title interested.
The performances are all on par with what you might expect and in some cases, the character arcs are rounded well enough to have you wishing for a slow death for some and no death for others. Unfortunately, you may not always get your wish in this department, and like this reviewer, you may find yourself genuinely aggrieved at the denouement offered, even if it is mostly faithful to the book.
In all, an admirable, entertaining effort. My three sons all sat through it without so much as a quibble, including the one that wouldn’t have been allowed to watch it without me being there, being just a smidgen shy of the age required. This is still undeniably ‘young adult’ in tone and theme, but nonetheless a great example of not having to pander to your younger audience with tropes that patronise the clientele. Well worth a watch.

Will the second installment fare as well? Without spoiling the plot, I’m hoping so, but I’m guessing not.

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