By Bob Garver
Sept. 22, 2014. “The Maze Runner” is supposedly the beginning of yet another franchise based on a violent book series aimed at teenagers. The easy label is that it’s a “Hunger Games” knockoff, I see it more as an “Ender’s Game” knockoff. Whatever it’s primarily knocking off, it still seems like a movie we’ve been seeing a lot of lately.
The film follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), a teenager who wakes up in a moving elevator with no memory of how he got there, or of anything else for that matter. He’s deposited in a compound called The Glade, which is populated by about 30 other boys. All of them have had their memories wiped out as well, but they’ve been there for months and years longer than him. The Glade is surrounded by a big stone wall with a single opening that leads into a maze. Every day a few guys called Runners go into the maze to look for a away out but they never find one. And if they don’t get back through the entrance by sundown, they get killed by giant mechanical insects called Grievers.
The other tharacters have one trait at most. There’s a best friend (Blake Cooper), a competent leader (Aml Ameen), a back up leader (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), a helpful jock (Ki Hong Lee), a mean jock (Will Poulter) and eventually a girl (Kaya Scodelario). Somewhat laughably, almost all of the other boys function as little more than scenery. Our fear is that their real function is as inevitable victims.
The boys have seen a tight-knit society in The Glade, but there’s not much focus on getting out. The Runners do their jobs without much drive, hope or urgency. Thomas suggests several ways of escaping without having to run the maze, and the other boys insist that whatever he can think of, they’re tried. I say they haven’t tried hard enough though, especially when it comes to building a ladder to the top of the wall. It’s up to Thomas to be brave and survive the maze from the inside. He does so pretty easily despite the experiences and pessimism of the others.
The action scenes in the movie are pathetic. I don’t think I’ve ever been less scared of a movie monster than I was of the Grievers. The only way I could see a Griever hurting somebody is if it got them to lunge at it. Then, since the Grievers are obviously bad CGI and there’s nothing there, the lunger would run right through them and smack into a wall or fall over a precipice. There is supposedly a lot of death at the hands of the Grievers, but all we ever see if people getting dragged off screen because the film knows that we won’t buy the Grievers succeeding at anything.
The maze is somehow connected to a corporation called WCKD (pronounced Wicked). Call it a haunch, but I think the folks at WCKD are bad guys. WKCD’s motivations are a complete mystery for most of the movie until they’re explained by a scientist (Patricia Clarkson), at which point they go from mysterious to confusing, even inexplicable. I fail to see how making teenagers run a maze where they can be killed by giant spider insects (not to mention the slow rate in which they introduce new participants – once a month for several years) in useful to solving the problem at hand.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about “The Maze Runner” is that it wastes a lot of time and energy setting up cliffhangers that will supposedly be resolved in some far-off sequel that as far as I know isn’t even in production yet. This film will therefore be remembered as one that raised more questions than it answered. I doubt that many people will remember what those questions were exactly, but they will remember that this film failed to answer them.
One and a half stars out of five.