Riding on the crest of a wave of box-office success in the USA, The Maze Runner now hurtles into multiplexes nationwide, the latest in an increasingly desperate succession of Hunger Games cash-ins, this Young Adult dystopian drama is adapted from the 2009 novel by James Dashner. Taking place mostly in the Glade, a sylvan clearing which is effectively a prison inhabited by a small community of teenage boys surrounded by impassable walls on all four sides, the story begins in medias res with the arrival of Thomas (Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien), the latest in a long line of monthly arrivals.
His memory, like those of the other boys, has been wiped and he has no idea why he is in the Glade or what ultimate purpose it serves. On the other side of the walls lies the Maze, a vast labyrinth that is open to the boys during the day but closes at dusk, reconfiguring itself through the night. An elite group called the Runners spend each day scouting the Maze searching for an exit, but anyone unfortunate enough to be trapped in the Maze after dark faces a grisly end at the hands of the Grievers, the huge scorpion-like biomechanoids which patrol within. The boys’ community is governed autocratically by Gally who was the first to arrive three years earlier. Thomas, of course, butts heads with him and determines to find a way out through the Maze.
Although physically well-executed and adequately directed by former effects artist Wes Ball in his feature debut, The Maze Runner suffers badly from many of the problems that plague films of this ilk. Although this is a dystopian fantasy, to work effectively story elements have to be grounded in a recognisable reality to provoke sympathy with the audience. The boys’ society as depicted, populated entirely by genre stereotypes, is as far from Lord of the Flies as can be conceived, the twenty-something teenagers, although clad in picturesquely stained clothing, are unfeasibly well-groomed and get along together far too well.
This is also exacerbated by the Curse of the Silent Majority; for budgetary reasons the majority of the boys on screen remain mute throughout the film, a conceit which is so utterly unrealistic for the kind of society being depicted it verges on laughable. It also de-energises what should be the most emotionally intense scenes in the latter part of the film.
As Thomas, although an appealing screen presence, O’Brien is another member of the modern army of interchangeable juvenile leads and completely overshadowed by the second-string players, particularly the British contingent, Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), Chronicles of Narnia’s Will Poulter (Gally) and Kaya Scodelario, soon to be seen in the film adaptation of Vonda N McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sun, who steal the film from him.
The latter plays Teresa, the final consignee to the Glade and the only female inmate. Instead of her arrival driving the boys into a sexually competitive frenzy she is accepted as little more than an unwelcome sister reminiscent of Wendy and the Lost Boys in Peter Pan but without the pirates and fairies, again, as unrealistic as logic lacunae of the plot.
To take only one example, in clumsy exposition Thomas asks why no-one has tried scaling the walls and is told the ivy doesn’t grow that high, however, the Glade is well provided with trees and given the quality of their shelters the boys seem skilled in timber construction, so why did no-one build a timber scaffolding to reach the top of the walls?. Similar plotholes are present throughout, and the final ‘resolution’ is as unresolved as it is unsatisfying, serving only to set up the inevitable sequel, now in pre-production.