“The Maze Runner” Review

There’s a joke somewhere here about how The Maze Runner takes a wrong turn, but I’m not going to make it. Based off of the popular young adult novel by James Dashner, this film is about a group of teenage boys who live in an isolated environment with no memories of their previous lives. Completely enclosed by a large maze, they try to find their way out of the “Glade” while a new boy arrives with supplies every month. After Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arrives, things start to change, for better or for worse.

As is the case with a lot of young adult fiction, The Maze Runner suffers heavily from Special Snowflake Syndrome. Special Snowflake Syndrome occurs in these movies when none of the other characters are more than blatant stereotypes, and the protagonist is treated as “special” while only exhibiting relatable traits. This feeds on our desire to relate to the hero and feel special, even when there’s nothing that exceptional about us. In this film, Thomas is mainly different from the other boys because he’s curious about things. He also does unjustifiably brave things that you’d like to think you’d do when fantasizing about being in this reality. Not that any of this stuff is damning for the film, but it makes it hard for me to differentiate this movie from other movies in the same vein (like The Hunger Games and Divergent), despite claims of a darker tone. 

Although none of the performances were really exceptional, at least all of the actors were relatively charismatic. Similarly, although none of the special effects were all that innovative, they were all executed well enough to where they didn’t take away from the story at hand. None of the actors were really given more than a bland archetype to work with, but they were entertaining to watch nonetheless. I would have liked to see a little more controlled character development though, because all of the time spent on character development in this film was just to further establish assumed roles like the tribe leader, antagonist, uncorrupted child, etc. It’s just a little disappointing, as I feel like some interesting character dynamics could have been explored, rather than focus all of the energy into the mystery of the maze. A $34 million dollar production budget is tiny compared to similar movies (The Hunger Games and Divergent were $78 and $85 million, respectively), yet the film doesn’t feel cheap. That said, the creature design for the “grievers” is just a mechanical spider, which feels like an obvious choice. And when inside the maze, there’s not a lot of variety in shot choices.

Normally, continuity errors aren’t significant enough to mention in a review like this, however, in The Maze Runner, it’s hard to focus on much else. Starting with 0, a new boy is released into the glade every month, and it’s said that this has been happening for 3-4 years, so there should be somewhere around 40 boys, minus the significant chunk that were said to have died while fighting each other, or in the maze. There is a shot of a wall with all of the names of the boys in the glade, and it appears as though there should be 20 or so guys left, tops. However, 35 “Gladers” are credited. And it seems as though not everyone was credited, because in some shots it appeared as if there were 50-60 or even more people there. Imdb.com even claims that there are 60 boys. And when the boys are ambushed and several are captured with the implication of a massacre, there are 20 or so guys left when we emerge. I’m relatively certain that I’m not nitpicking when it comes to things like this because it was all I could think about for the duration of the film. These decisions show a level of laziness and preference of aesthetics over logic, which just feels kind of patronizing. 

I’ll admit that mystery surrounding the glade and the reason that the boys are there is intriguing though. I enjoyed myself a lot more in the first half than in the second half when the filmmakers started their haphazard attempt to explain things. The aggravating thing is that the questions that are chosen to be answered aren’t the one’s you care about. Everything else is left for you to find out in the sequels. This doesn’t appear to be an artsy decision in the context of the film though; this comes across more as a lack of motivation and understanding. There’s a difference between having a background and making a conscious decision to not explicitly tell the audience, and not really knowing the background and desperately avoiding being called out on it. The ending is also just a big “Screw You!” to the audience. From the appearance of characters to add drama, to an unnecessary tearjerker moment, to the reveal of the reason that the boys are in the glade, the ending sums up the film as whole – desperately unfulfilling and kind of aggravating. 4/10.

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