Maze Runner fails to outrun genre norms
The newest young adult dystopian literary sensation, The Maze Runner, is basically a hybrid of Lost, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games that’s been adapted for the silver screen to win over the plethora of teenagers who are looking for a new hero to root for.
The Maze Runner is a pretty refreshing addition to the YA subgenre, but it ultimately seems to be lost in the crowded labyrinth of YA film adaptations in which the mandatory plot must be fueled in a dystopian setting with an unwilling, oppressed hero.
The Maze Runner immediately thrusts viewers into the film in a dark, cramped cage with an amnesic youth named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien). He is offered up to a group of boys who inhabit a pasture called The Glade which is surrounded by an enormous Maze.
The Gladers, as the boys call themselves, taunt Thomas while adapting him to their confined world. They, too, have similar memory loss and can only remember their names, which helps thicken the plot ever so slightly.
Thomas is immediately intrigued by the Maze, but Gally (Will Poulter) adamantly shuts him down, saying only the Runners go through the Maze during the day as they try to find an escape.
During the night, they come back to the Glade, as the doors of the Maze slide shut and biomechanical arachnids called Grievers wander the Maze. This process has been going on for three years, during which the Runners have made futile attempts to find an escape.
When fighting with Gally, Thomas slams his head on the ground and, instead of experiencing a bad migraine, he suddenly remembers his name and the crowd of boys cheer for him, even though they were jeering at him literally ten seconds before, as Thomas clearly lost the fight. At least Thomas has recovered a sliver of his identity.
Fortunately, the film doesn’t focus on Thomas trying to figure out his past. That part is covered through conveniently scattered flashbacks that are imbued in blue (for some reason, all flashbacks in dystopian movies seem to be in blue) in the form of Thomas’s dreams. Through these dreams, it’s revealed that he used to work for a corporation called W.C.K.D. which experimented on the Gladers. The mantra “W.C.K.D is good” is echoed repeatedly through the film, propelling a hackneyed mystery that signals there is a bigger objective behind the Maze.
As mentioned before, Thomas doesn’t really care about who he once was. His main goal is to survive, which means going through the Maze, much to the opposition of Gally, who believes that it’s safer to inhabit the Glade and coexist with the Grievers.
Of course, Thomas goes through the Maze during the night and, having survived one night in the Maze, he inevitably disrupts the equilibrium that the Gladers have established. Soon, the need to escape the Glade becomes more urgent and Thomas takes the lead to venture into the Maze.
Some parts are thrilling, while some fall flat. We’ve seen many of these plot points time and time again.
As visual effects artist Wes Ball’s first film, The Maze Runner is a refreshingly visual film that doesn’t get overwhelmed by CGI or unnecessary love triangles. Unfortunately, the last act of the film is dedicated to setting up the premise of the sequel, which ends up being way more frustrating than satisfying. However, that seems to be a prerequisite in the hopes that they will skyrocket to franchise-level success. A seemingly necessary evil in the world of YA film adaptations.