This week sees the release of the film that 20th Century Fox hopes to turn into the next young adult mega franchise. In the last year, we have had the second installment of the Hunger Games and the first of the Divergent films. The question is do we really need another trilogy (in four parts, probably) set in a dystopian society with children in peril?
A youthful man, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), wakes on an ascending lift. He is disorientated and scared. When the lift stops he is faced with the sight of a collection of boys who are all looking down on him. He wants to make a run for it but doesn’t get far. When he calms down, he realises the predicament he is in. His memory has been erased like the rest of the boys and he is now spending life in a community which is in the heart of a maze. Once a month a new addition is added to the group in the same method as Thomas.
The boys are organised into a community with roles allocated to each one. Some of them are classified as runners. They are the only ones that are allowed into the maze. Their job is to map it in order to get an escape route. They have been at it for three years without success. The gateway to the maze is only open during the day and anyone left inside as darkness falls does not survive the night. Something patrols the maze. Creatures known as Grievers. Thomas is desperate to leave and starts to push the other boys to learn more about the maze. He starts to have strange dreams which disturb him to the point where he needs to enter the maze in order to solve its mystery and find out why he was placed there.
I went into this film with no expectations. With no knowledge of the books by James Dashner and little exposure to the publicity to the lead up to the release it was noteworthy if the film could deliver on its own merits. It did. From the first scene in the lift the pace and the style of the movie were set. The story unfolded for Thomas at the same rate as it did for the audience. There were a couple of exchanges between major characters that left you thinking is that all? They were vague in the extreme. This was actually very clever as the community was trying to introduce Thomas to the idea of his surroundings in a gentle way. As in real life, the information is limited so as not to freak anybody out.
What this achieved was an air of mystery and intrigue for at least half of the film. As no one had any memory of before the maze this added to the intrigue. There was no one popping up as an oracle to spoil the story development. The film owes a debt to the book Lord of the Flies by William Golding. There are strong echoes of that story here in the set up as the boys are trapped in a place where escape is impossible and they must organise and set the rules in order to survive.
The young male cast consists of mainly fresh talent which helps with the tension in the film. As you will be well aware if you have a major star in the lead role the chances of them surviving to the end credits is greatly enhanced. With unfamiliar faces, the stakes are much higher. Dylan O’Brien is good as Thomas and it is he that is called upon to carry the film, being integral to almost every scene. Will Poulter as Gally is a stand out in what could have been a minor role. His character is an alpha male type, but the performance Poulter teases out gives Gally a bit of depth. The rest of the cast are in somewhat minor roles, but all are good with no one standing out as being duff.
There are scenes in the movie where the boys encounter the Grievers. These are genuinely tense scenes. The monsters, without giving too much away, are rendered well and are suitably scary. The overall feel of the movie is somber and dark which is unusual for a film aimed at at a teenage and pre teen audience. There are more than enough thrills to be had here without the need for excessive gore or overt violence. What really helped the movie was the feeling of being enclosed. The boys living area was at all times overshadowed by the gigantic walls on all sides and the maze itself was sinister and oppressive.
Overall, The Maze Runner was surprisingly dark and intense. It stands up very well as film in its own right but also raises expectations for the subsequent entries in the franchise. Recommended.