Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: The Maze Runner

World of Blackout Film Review

The Maze Runner Poster

The Maze Runner
Cert: 12A / 113 mins / Dir. Wes Ball
WoB Rating: 5/7

While I'd been initially skeptical about another Young Adult Novel™ to screen adaptation*1, it didn't take long at all for Wes Ball's The Maze Runner to gently brush those worries aside. The film is actually just a very competent dystopian action-thriller which happens to have a predominantly young cast. For the most part, The Maze Runner is incredibly well acted given the outlandishness of the plot, with a strong lead from Dylan O'Brien and an array of naturalistic supporting performances. Oh, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster effortlessly stealing every scene he's in.

After a dream-like opening sequence, young Thomas (O'Brien) finds himself in 'The Glade', an inhabitable woodland clearing walled off by a gigantic concrete maze which 'opens' nightly. Amnesiac to the point of only eventually remembering his own name, he soon discovers that he's not alone, but in the company of thirty-odd other inhabitants with the same mnemonic handicap, all in their mid-to-late teens, and all male. The existing 'tribe', as they've become, are wary of Thomas' presence as he seems to somehow instinctively know more than they have worked out in their time there (up to three years for the 'oldest' ones), and Thomas' arrival is the first in a chain of events which will reveal exactly who they all are, and why they're there. Including the subsequent arrival of The Girl One™...

On top of the performances, the film's visual and special effects are outstanding throughout, and while they're a little too murky-looking for my liking, the sequences within the maze itself are fantastically tense (and I can't be the only one who, at the first glimpse of the Grievers' mechanical arachnoid legs, thought of the Clone Wars' Spider-Maul). I think the narrative itself would work better with an adult cast, but the kids here certainly hold their own. The young-adult nature of The Maze Runner could well rob the film of the wider audience it deserves, but since a 'grown-up' version would probably star Tom Cruise, we've got the better end of the deal as it stands. Ironically, the film would lose a lot of its subtlety with an adult cast (and not just because of Cruise).

There are, of course, hiccups along the way, mostly plot-based. A lot of the practical questions about the boys' warder-less incarceration seem to be answered by the fact that no-one asks them (on-screen, at least), but it seems jarringly unworkable that a group of necessarily intelligent characters have unquestioningly accepted the status quo, amnesia or not. I have no problem with a story being split into a trilogy*2, even if that structure has been established from the word go, but The Maze Runner seems to raise questions then withhold the answers not in a teasing way, but as if the writer hasn't quite figured them out yet. And hey that can bulk out the sequels, right? Once again, perhaps the source text haa been ruthlessly trimmed to fit onto celluloid, but I certainly think there are fascinating questions here that are barely even asked, while too much time is spent trying to make the film appeal to the Teen Adventure Film™ demographic.

Plot niggles aside, the slightly-meta action puzzler of a movie was going really well for me until the final reel. When the adults show up on set. Bringing with them that overbearing sense of teenage paranoia, complete with a patronising "you're so special because you're young, that's why your lives have been a living hell for the last three years" monologue. In any other flick, this section would be where an hour and a half's worth of questions are answered. In The Maze Runner, it's where I.O.U.s are handed out in lieu of exposition, with a hint that the sequel could be a mashup of The Matrix and Half-Life. Oh, I'd love that to be the case, but I know if won't be. Either way, I'm on board now, the film proved to be head and shoulders above many of its 'grown up' contemporaries. I only hope the sequels don't try too hard to fulfil more than their already-considerable potential.

The movie which plays like an overdriven mashup of the Stanford Prison Experiment and Aliens is a bloody fun ride; the one which plays like lazy pastiche of The Hunger Games? Not so much…

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Kinda, but the film's way more engaging than the trailer.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
It probably does, and that's just not what I want from it.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
Cinema if it's your thing, otherwise renting/streaming it at home should be acceptable.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Will I watch it again?
Probably not until the sequel's due to arrive.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?
Didn't hear one. Plenty of opportunities, too.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

And my question for YOU is…
For those who've seen the film, highlight-to-read: We see an aerial shot of The Maze at the end of the film with The Glade at the centre. Other than being in the middle of a 100-metre high technologically unfeasible engineering, it's completely exposed to the elements. If the Earth is "scorched" as Dr Paige says in her expository assault in the film's final throes, how come the flora in The Glade is thriving, largely unassisted by human intervention? (the farm project that the group have set up isn't what I'm referring to) If The Maze had just been a simulation, I could have lived with it. Hmmf.

*1 It's not so much their existence which irks me (anything which gets people reading should be a positive thing, so how can a cinematic spinoff be negative?), but more than they're all marketed as the same genre. Y'know, in the same way that all films for 30-40yr olds are the same, right? Yeah, that. it's insulting to the audience, more than anything else.
*2 Come on, how could "I", of all people, let alone any Star Wars / Indiana Jones / Back To The Future fan?

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment