CINEMA RELEASE: THE MAZE RUNNER
Release date: 18th September 2014
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Aml Ameen, Patricia Clarkson
Classification: M (Violence, Science Fiction Themes and Sustained Threat)
Review by Peter Gray
As far as young adult novels turned film adaptations go, ‘The Hunger Games’ still appears to be the pinnacle of the genre. The post-apocalyptic world that tends to be the basis for all similarly themed works can only differ in so many ways before it becomes stagnant, and though features like ‘Divergent’ and ‘The Giver’ went for their own vibe and more-or-less succeeded on their own terms, ‘The Maze Runner’, with its intriguing premise and alarming intensity, looks to have the most potential.
The film begins suddenly when Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrust into a strange world with a group of similarly aged young men who have created their own civilisation, one that has been built over the course of three years. With no recollection of who he is, or how (and why) he got to where he is, it doesn’t take him long to work out that all the others have gone through the same experience as him. Surrounding the forested land they call home is a massive stone wall landscape that, to this point, hasn’t led to freedom despite the fact that every night the doors open with promise of an escape. Unfortunately when the doors open it indicates the intricate maze that is contained within the stone structure has transformed yet again, and once night falls the doors shut leaving anyone in the maze to be trapped and easy prey for a series of large insect-like creatures called Grievers.
Initially frightened but then overwhelmed by curiosity, Thomas learns of those known as “Runners”, people whose purpose it is to enter the maze every day in hopes of finding freedom. Thomas’ inquisitive nature does nothing to calm the already heightened situation, and the group dynamic is further shifted when a young girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), is sent with a note claiming she will be the last one ever. Matters are made worse when she appears to recognise Thomas. Apart from the acronym WCKD, no other information is known but, as to be expected, Thomas refuses to abide by this mysterious circumstance and eventually sets out for answers. Where it leads is best left a secret as ‘The Maze Runner’ successfully draws its audience in before throwing them for a loop, a tactic I was most impressed by as it sets itself up for inevitable sequels.
As is the case with most young adult adaptations, casting is key and O’Brien is a solid lead, creating a character whose plight we actually care about. Scodelario is less utilised, hardly the typical female role we’d expect in this genre, but she handles what she’s given amiably. Whilst the majority of the other young men in the community are interchangeable, a handful stand out with Aml Ameen impressing as the commanding but compassionate leader Alby, and Ki Hong Lee as the primary runner Minho. Will Poulter (drastically changing his tune from the dopey “son” in ‘We’re The Millers’) verges on borderline irritation with his character Gally, who refuses to accept Thomas, but that’s more a criticism on the way his role is written as opposed to how he performs. And in typical fashion of an established name joining the picture to add credibility (see Kate Winslet in ‘Divergent’ or Meryl Streep in ‘The Giver’) Patricia Clarkson features in a small but pivotal role as a woman who potentially holds all the answers as to what is taking place.
Another impressive factor is the look of the film with both the world in and out of the maze particularly effective, and the Griever creatures a seriously menacing creation. First time feature-length director Wes Ball has handled the transition from page to screen with remarkable ease, and has thankfully opted out of emulating any of the other aforementioned young adult titles. With two more books featured in this series (‘The Scorch Trials’ and ‘The Death Cure’ round out the trilogy) it seems most probable that further cinematic adaptations will be on their way – especially if the conclusion here is anything go by – so try not to be too upset with the rather abrupt ending.
My rating: 3.5/5