‘The Maze Runner’ Leaves You Wishing for an Easier Exit

by Joe Jarosz on September 19, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Down]

I realized something as I was talking to my wife about The Maze Runner. I didn’t see any water inside the enclosement where everyone lives.

Roughly 20 young men —  ranging in age from pre-teen to early 20s —  are trapped inside a maze. The inner circle of the maze houses their huts and has been cleaned up and is used for farming and hunting. The area is called The Glade. Why? I don’t know because it’s never explained. But the young men are able to grow fruits and vegetables somehow, water-free.

The movie, although with a deep cast, follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who is dropped into the community of boys who have been living inside the maze for three years. Once a month, an elevator delivers supplies and another young man. Always young men. So, in the three years, roughly 36 young men have been placed inside the maze. But the crowd that greets Thomas isn’t that big because there are runners, boys who navigate the maze, looking for a way out. Sometimes, they don’t return.

The one thing every young man has in common with one another is he arrives with his memory erased. For everyone, there was no life before the maze. But while others just accept that they’ve been placed in a maze with no memory of the how or why, Thomas is curious. Unlike the others, Thomas occasionally has Wolverine-like flashbacks of where he came from. He remembers a laboratory and a mysterious woman in a lab coat.

As a runner, Thomas partners with Minho (Ki Hong Lee) to navigate the maze. Minho tells us the maze constantly changes, making it impossible to navigate. And if that wasn’t enough, there are giant, mechanical spiders inside the maze, ready to kill. Between trips inside the maze, looking for a way out, Thomas makes enemies, most notably with Gally (Will Poulter), who prefers to let sleeping dogs lie.

There seems to be only three genres for young adult novels that get turned into films: dystopian future where all the kids are fighting for their lives, the standard issued vampire/werewolf love stories, and sick kids falling in love. Despite what we want to believe, young adults are smarter than we give them credit for. Only one book that has been turned into a movie in the past 10 to 12 months treated the audience with the respect they deserve and that was The Fault in Our Stars. Although popular, the books that feature dystopian futures are too difficult to correctly convey on the screen because so much detail has to be left out in order for the film to fall under the standard two-hour time frame.

The film has an interesting premise, I’ll give it that. But there was no suspense. I was reminded of Alfred Hitchcock’s quote about suspense. It’s too long to place into the review, so I’ll paraphrase, but I advise you to look it up. He explained how many movies confuse suspense and surprise. The movie was filled with surprises for the audience but no suspense, which is what this movie needed. When you threaten the life of the only character who holds the key to opening a door that needs to be opened, I’m not holding my breath in suspense because I know he’s not going to get killed.

What also hurt this movie was its non-ending. A recent trend of young adult novels that get turned into movies are, if they come from a series, there may not be an actual ending until the end of the series. My biggest grief with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was there technically wasn’t an ending. Now that series has been successful and I’ll finally be able to find out what happens this fall. But if The Maze Runner flops, I’ll be left hanging. There was no closure for the characters or the audience at the end of this movie. In one of the last scenes in the movie, one of the last lines uttered is a boy asking another, “Is it over?”

Sadly, it isn’t.

Joe Jarosz is a Midwest boy now living in California.

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