Wednesday 8 April 2015

The Maze Runner

“Young-adult fiction”, or just “YA”, is a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately. I suppose it started around the time the Twilight craze kicked off, when the it’s-cool-to-hate-stuff-that-other-people-like brigade latched onto it as if to say, “Twilight books aren’t proper books, they’re just young-adult books!” But now YA stuff – especially dystopian YA – is everywhere, and The Guardian is peppered with features about how great it all is and why adults should be reading more of it. There’s even a Twitter account, @DystopianYA, dedicated to fondly parodying the genre (“I'm so clumsy. I accidentally spilled the Nutrition we had for dinner all over my grey tunic”). My point being, YA isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the inevitable film adaptations, with their endless sequels.

The latest such adaptation and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD is 2014’s The Maze Runner, directed by Wes Ball and based on the 2009 book of the same name. I’ll tell you now, this film isn’t nearly as classy or smart as The Hunger Games series, but if you’re even slightly familiar with YA tropes, chances are you’re going to find something to like about it. This film has everything: angry robot spiders, a zombie virus, PG-13 swearing, hundreds of unnecessary proper nouns (Glade, Gladers, the Box, the Maze, Blades, Runners, Grievers, etc.), and a sad bit that’s literally identical to a sad bit in the first Hunger Games movie. There’s a lot of naff charm to be found here.

The story plays out in a small grassy area called the Glade, inhabited by a group of boys (Gladers) who’ve been deposited there and left to fend for themselves, one every month, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. The Glade is surrounded by a towering concrete Maze, replete with deadly monsters (Grievers) and traps (Blades). Oh, and did I mention the Maze is always changing, so it’s nearly impossible to find your way out? Or that those Grievers are huge, venomous, bionic spiders, whose poison basically turns you into a zombie? Yeah.

Every day, a select few Gladers, who’ve been designated as Runners (are the proper nouns annoying you yet?), venture into the maze to try to map it and uncover its secrets, returning before sundown when its giant, concrete mouth slams shut. No one’s ever survived a night in the Maze; several have lost their lives to it.

Enter Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), the latest Glader and the obligatory “chosen one” of this YA universe, who immediately demonstrates his Running prowess by rushing into the Maze and rescuing lead Runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee, who’s now starring as a clunky Korean stereotype in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) before – and you may have seen this coming – surviving a night in the Maze! Thomas is quickly followed by Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the first ever girl to enter the Glade, whose arrival seems to trigger a string of other unusual, unwelcome events. But can the Gladers finally defeat the Maze, before it defeats them? There’s a sequel coming out in September, so… y’know. Probably.

The film is well-acted, written, and put together – the special effects felt subtle and believable, even though the majority of the locations can’t possibly have existed – and there’s a nice balance between action sequences and calmer, more story-driven moments. If I’ve got one criticism, it’s that The Maze Runner doesn’t really do anything that hasn’t been done before – and done better. Canadian cult classic film Cube and Nintendo DS adventure 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors are just two of the examples that spring to mind. There are hints towards the end of the film that its sequel might be very different, and explore far more interesting territory; it’s just a shame to have to wait so long for things to get going.

Overall, though, The Maze Runner has proven itself as one of the more solid, likeable YA series out there, and the fact its characters are treading old ground doesn’t make watching them tread that ground any less enjoyable. 

I’m giving The Maze Runner a well-deserved 4/5.


Mike Lee

The Maze Runner at CeX

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