Title: The Maze Runner
Director: Wes Ball
Major Players: Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Patricia Clarkson
Out Of Five: Three
If 2014 doesn’t turn out to be the year of the YA film, it’ll certainly be the one when they broke away from Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga to become a genre in their own right. We’ve had Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars, If I Stay and, more recently The Giver. YA if, like me, you’re not the target audience, means Young Adult, so we’ve talking movies for teenagers, all of which have been adapted from novels for the same age group.
The latest is The Maze Runner, which is released on Friday. YA films have one of two settings – either post-apocalyptic or contemporary but dealing with tragic death and/or intense teenage love. The Maze Runner belongs in the former category: there’s certainly no tear-jerking romance here – indeed, a token girl only arrives half way through the film and has precious little to do.
Teenager Thomas is plunged into The Glade. He’s in a rapidly ascending lift and arrives sprawled on the floor in a stupor. When he wakes, he’s lost his memory to the extent that he can’t even remember his own name, he’s surrounded by other boys of much the same age and comes to understand that The Glade – essentially a large field with some trees – is surrounded by what looks like a huge, sheer wall. This actually conceals The Maze, which opens every morning at different points and closes when the sun comes down. Some of the boys – a select band known as maze runners – have managed to map out part of the interior, but it changes every day. Monsters known as Grievers are known to occupy it but, once his memory has returned, Thomas not only wants to know why they’re all there, but how they can get through The Maze and who’s really in control.
There is an immediate sense of some exterior force, human or otherwise, controlling the boys, like they are pieces on a chess board. And a great monolith like The Maze can’t move at will, so chances are that same force is operating it as well.
A lot of the film is spent piecing together how the boys all came to be there and their constant attempts to find out the secrets of The Maze seem to incur its increasing wrath, resulting in a mighty battle with The Grievers. A word of warning right now. If you don’t like spiders, The Maze Runner is best avoided, because the monsters are remarkably nimble robotic giant spiders, with fleshy bodies and Meccano limbs, including a scorpion-like tail with a claw at the tip straight from a grab-a-prize seaside game. Get the picture?
Once we get inside The Maze, it looks surprisingly bland – all lofty, blank concrete walls and lots of ivy. You wish for an aerial view for a clearer view of the shape, but that would be giving the game away. As it is, it just adds to the air of mystery. But as the film moves towards its climax, The Maze starts to look increasingly stagey and less impressive, perhaps because it simply becomes the backdrop for the showdown with the Grievers. It’s fast and frenzied – so fast, sometimes, that there are moments when you can’t actually work out what’s happening on the screen.
Yes, you do find out the reason for The Maze and when you do, it begs the question why anybody would spend so much time, effort and resources on it when the Earth is in such a perilous state. Essentially the whole film is just setting the scene for parts two and three – and the second instalment has already been given a release date of the end of 2015. So, given that this film made it to the top of the American box office last month, the marketing campaign has already started.
If you’re the target audience, you’ll probably enjoy it – American audiences clearly did! There’s enough action and mystery to keep you going and it’s a very straightforward story in that there’s no real sub-plot as a distraction.
If you’re not the target audience, you’ll probably feel that you’ve seen it all before. And you probably have, because you’ll have seen more films than most teenagers. You might find it reasonably exciting but, in the end, it’s nothing more than simply OK.
The Maze Runner opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, 10 October.