There seemed to be an explosion of Young Adult novel adaptations in the 2010s. Last year, I looked at The Hunger Games series, and now, I’m looking at another YA adaptation. However, I don’t feel like I’ll be looking at the whole series after the first one.
Well, that seems needlessly cruel; it’s not as if The Maze Runner has the profile Hunger Games has, but I couldn’t help but note the similarities in it regardless. If I were a cynical man, wait, let me rephrase that – me, as a cynical man, can’t help but see this film as a cash-in in the wake of much more successful franchises, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Its set up is something we’ve seen before; a seemingly post-apocalyptic world, a band of survivors, and a central gimmick confining them to one place or event. In this case, the crew of rag-tag youngsters are trapped in the middle of a maze supposedly filled with monsters. No one has survived in the labyrinth, so naturally, our hero is the first to do so and kill the previously indestructible monster. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, really.
There is nothing particularly new about The Maze Runner, but there isn’t anything particularly bad about it either. It’s a relatively frustrating kind of film to review, one where I end up repeating the same point a few times, mainly that it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. I can try and make it more interesting, but the film didn’t try and do anything different to make it stand out, so there isn’t much I can do.
While it was never ‘dull’ per se, it wasn’t exciting either. It just plods along, establishes its plot and characters. None of those characters particularly stand out; I think it’s a stretch to call some of them ‘characters’ to be fair. They try and make some of the events seem poignant by killing off some characters, but the film doesn’t give them enough personality to make us connect, so this attempt to tug at our heartstrings falls flat.
The actors portraying these characters do a good job, though, to be fair to them. Dylan O’Brien portrays the films hero, Thomas, the last male character to enter ‘The Glade’ (the area in the middle of the maze, where the survivors live). He’s charismatic and likeable, but the script doesn’t give him much character, which is the case with most, if not all, the people portrayed in this film.
Other notable cast members include such names as Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who, despite being now in his 30s, can still easily get away with portraying a teenager to a frightening degree. Maybe we should check he isn’t a vampire. There’s also Will Poulter, who, to me, perfectly encapsulates a “that guy” actor, someone whose face you recognise but not their name. They’re always ‘that guy from [insert movie here]’. I vaguely knew his name but still had to Google it just to make sure. These two add recognisable faces to the cast but are still essentially just bland caricatures. Poulter’s character is arbitrarily jealous of Thomas because of vague reasons, which doesn’t add anything to the overall narrative.
I think the aspect where the film shines the brightest is in its visual design. The world of the maze is incredibly well-realised. When the characters venture out into it, it has an atmosphere of dread about it, like the maze itself is a monster, plotting this makeshift society’s downfall. The creatures that dwell within the labyrinth are almost secondary to the maze’s hostile atmosphere. All of this adds a sense of danger to the environment. Even if you aren’t all that invested in the characters, the world they exist in might just be fascinating enough to hold your attention for the film’s runtime.
Aside from the exciting world and how well it’s realised, The Maze Runner doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table. It doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. It has a cohesive story and the aforementioned atmospheric tension, but it doesn’t populate this world with characters the audience can care about. Instead, it relies on stock character tropes and archetypes that have been weary and tired for years. It really is a shame that such an interesting concept that has a few positive aspects to it ultimately fails to engage on a level similar to its competition.
I know this is a comparison I’d made before, but I think of this next to The Hunger Games. The latter had intrigue and evolving characters, but it didn’t overuse its concept by the end of the first film. It created intrigue, but in such a way that made you want to come back next time to see how it would evolve. I have no such feeling about this series. This doesn’t have the compelling characters THG has. Neither does it feel like a story that particularly needs to be continued. I know there are sequels after this, but I feel like this could be a standalone story and exist in a vacuum. I just don’t have the interest levels in this series to revisit it again as I did with The Hunger Games. Ultimately, it is the films’ most significant downfall.
A decent, if well-worn, premise, coupled with bland characters, can’t be saved by the stellar atmosphere and tension the film creates. It’s not so much a bad film as a disappointing one, especially as the audience for this sort of film seems to be an ever-present one. I can’t see this film having the staying power of similar franchises. An exciting concept that lacks several crucial elements, The Maze Runner is a bit of a damp squib.