Year 3, Film #27 (Total #477)
THE PLOT: Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape.
THE GOOD: The current trend/popular thing in Hollywood right now, as you can probably tell, is the big YA-craze that’s been sweeping the nation. It start with The Hunger Games in 2012 (and sequels since then) and since then we’ve seen Divergent, The Giver, and now The Maze Runner all follow suit. While the argument can be made that the idea is getting dry and overdone, I’m still finding these films to be extremely fun to watch and so engaging that I’ve even started reading their book counterparts (gasp!).
The Maze Runner goes a bit deeper though than The Hunger Games and Divergent do. I would consider this film more of a mystery/thriller than a YA (young adult for the uninitiated) film which is significant. The Hunger Games really set the standard for the current YA-film and it’s more than just having kids be the main characters. No, I consider a YA-film to fall into a specific mold where it’s more about getting some action/adventure in along with some kind of dystopian setting where the government is evil with a backstory of how the people lost their freedom and strive to get it back.
While I could compare The Maze Runner to a much older classic, Lord of the Flies, and do so quite easily (bunch of stranded kids, group splits in two-factions one following an evil leader who is out for blood, small fat kid who everyone loves — aww, Piggy — and a race for survival among others) The Maze Runner also has its own merits. For one, it’s much more modern than Lord of the Flies is and with that comes more possibilities, the biggest of which being the maze. As you know, I enjoy films set in one location, but this film bends those parameters a bit. You could consider the maze as one location (the Glade inside the surrounding maze certainly is and where the majority of the film takes place), but having the puzzling maze lie just outside their home provides endless possibilities and a world of unknowns.
But what’s so great about The Maze Runner is that it is its own thing; it doesn’t rely on preconceived notions. Think of it like The Maze Runner : The Hunger Games : : Guardians of the Galaxy : The Avengers. It’s somehow familiar, yet entirely new and different at the same time. Combine this with the fact that it doesn’t fit the recent YA-mold, and you have a wholly original experience. I was shocked, scared, nervous, exhilarated, and captivated throughout this movie and there was never a dull moment (besides the ending which I’ll get into in a moment). Comparably, I think this stacks up more with a film like David Fincher’s Panic Room than it does The Hunger Games because you’re never sure what’s going to happen next. The question that’s constantly running through your mind is, “Why are they here?” and it’s a question that the film keeps the answer to skillfully under wraps giving you only scraps of information, enough to satiate that gnawing sensation bit-by-bit.
THE BAD: My only real complaint about this film deals exclusively with the ending. Up until a certain twist (one which you can probably guess, but alas I’ll remain quiet because here be spoilers), everything is copacetic. Then you start getting answers to all the questions you’ve been having throughout the film, like the nagging “Why are they here?” question, and things start falling apart. Not plot holes or anything like that, but that dichotomy of saying, “Alright, the mystery is over now, here’s an explanation for everything that just happened.” I’m not saying leaving us with no answers would have been the right move, but to end the film with a much different setting and feeling than the rest of the film makes it feel out of place.
And then you have the fact that The Maze Runner won’t hold as a standalone film because the setup for the impending sequel is ingrained in the ending. You expect sequels to big films nowadays, but it’s one thing to leave the audience with some burning questions that warrant a new film and another thing entirely to end the film just short of a “To Be Continued” title. It’s not that they insinuated that another film would follow, in fact quite the opposite. It was them explicitly saying, “Just wait to come back in another year to see how this story continues,” that bothers me, and it bothers me because that means The Maze Runner doesn’t have a firm ending. Leave as much open to the imagination as you want at the end of the film (like Inception — people still argue over that ending today), just don’t make it a requirement that we come back to see how it ends.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Maze Runner is another entry into the YA-dystopian genre but brings with it some originality, energy, and a mystery element that’s lacking in the rest of the category. There’s never a dull moment and you’ll be at the edge of your seat for most of the film wanting to know why these kids are placed in a maze. At the end, a lot of mysteries are solve and questions answered (I argue too many), but many more arise as they set up the upcoming sequel, The Scorch Trials. While a bit presumptuous of them and taking away the appeal of a standalone movie, this film was so good there’s no way I couldn’t see the sequel, and you’ll probably feel the same way after watching this film.
The Maze Runner opens in theaters tomorrow, Friday, September 19, 2014.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5