Friday, September 19, 2014

The Maze Runner - 2 1/2 stars

It’s been a month since we had a dystopian movie based on a young adult fantasy novel.  Based on the book by Utah author James Dashner, The Maze Runner is a pretty good story idea.  

The movie opens with sixteen year old Thomas waking up in The Glade, a forest area surrounded on all sides by massive stone walls.  He has no memory of who he is or why he is there, but there are about 30 other boys in the same state.  Once a month a new boy arrives, and they have established a community in The Glade.  

It turns out they are in the center of a giant maze.  Every morning the door to the maze opens, and every night the door closes.  Runners are sent into the maze to try and find a way out, and they have to return before the door closes because there are dangerous creatures in the maze.  The creatures are called Grievers, and no one has ever seen them and survived.

That’s a pretty simple setup for a story, and the movie keeps us guessing until the end about why they are there and what’s going on.  Are they being punished?  Are they part of some experiment?  They know someone is in control, because every month supplies arrive along with a new kid.  

One thing that was surprising was the level of violence in this movie.  It’s PG-13, which means we don’t see any blood, but there are still quite a few deaths in this movie.  When the creatures from the maze attack, it’s reminiscent of Starship Troopers.  Those things are quite vicious, and we see a number of the boys stabbed by their deadly tails.  

There were things to like in this movie, but I was disappointed by the lack of character development.  All the characters were flat and two-dimensional.  Thomas is the hero of the story, but we don’t learn much about him other than he is more anxious than any of the others to explore the maze and get out.  And Gally (Will Poulter from Son of Rambow) is the antagonist.  At first, he seems distrustful of Thomas and always walks around with a scowl on his face.  He doesn’t seem to have a problem with the runners trying to find a way out of the maze, but he does have a problem with Thomas fighting the Grievers.  By the end, his motivations don’t make sense, and he’s causing trouble just because the movie needed a villain.

Another problem is the lack of humor.  It doesn’t matter what genre a movie is – every movie needs a little bit of humor.  The characters were so serious all the time, and it got tedious.  Also, the dialogue isn’t bad but it does nothing other than serve the plot.  It would have been nice to see these characters have some fun or have an interesting conversation.  And there are too many scenes of the characters talking earnestly to each other.  The movie is chock full of earnestness.  

The other big problem is that this is going to be another franchise.  Like every other one before it (Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent), this is the first of a series.  Instead of being a standalone movie, it mostly serves to set up the rest of the series.  The finale is a real letdown because of this.  When we find out why the kids are in the maze, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  But it’s also trying too hard to set up the next movie in the series.

The story would have made a good Twilight Zone episode, but it doesn’t quite work as a movie.  It’s almost good enough to recommend, but not quite.  If you’re a fan of the books, you’ll probably like it better than I did.

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