We currently seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of movie adaptations drawn from a booming literary genre labelled – somewhat incongruously perhaps – as ‘young adult fiction’, almost all of which seem to be set within a post-apocalyptic world (Tomorrow When the War Began, Hunger Games, How I Live Now etc). It seems that barely a week goes by without one of these films hitting Australian cinema screens. One of the latest such offerings is The Maze Runner, a film set in a future world in which young people are forced to fight for survival for reasons that – if we think about it too much – don’t really make much sense. Anybody familiar with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (or the subsequent film adaptations) will be familiar with the basic premise of the The Maze Runner; a group of boys are stranded together in a primitive environment and forced to govern themselves. However, unlike Golding’s book in which the boys are trapped on an uninhabited island as the result of a plane crash, in The Maze Runner, the group are confined to a wilderness surrounded by concrete walls and a series of seemingly impenetrable mazes inhabited by maleficent creatures dubbed ‘Grievers’. Each of the boys have been sent here by an unknown authority, arriving at regular intervals via an underground elevator with no memory of their past.
The film begins with the arrival of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), whose presence instantly creates tensions amongst the group when he refuses to accept his fate and immediately begins to seek a way out. The relatively peaceful co-existence of the group starts to splinter as Thomas demonstrates that freedom might just be possible. The action ramps up as the boys take on the Grievers, and each other, in a series of action sequences that are exciting enough but still very conscious of their target audience, with minimal gore or gratuitous violence. As such, this is an enjoyable enough experience as long as you don’t stop to identify the various plot holes and leaps of logic that could, if you allowed them to, have you muttering “What the?” at regular intervals.
On the one hand, kudos to first-time feature director Wes Ball for bringing it in under two hours, but this also means that there is a lack of exposition in several areas that make it difficult to really understand exactly why the boys have been left to fend for themselves, particularly when it becomes obvious in the closing moments that they could have been extricated at any time. Furthermore, the arrival of a girl – Theresa (Kaya Scodelario from TV’s Skins) – into the community for the first time is really nothing more than a not-so-elaborate Maguffin as neither her presence, nor her gender specifically, really offer anything of significance to narrative trajectory beyond the fact that she is carrying a note that identifies her as the final arrival. The fact that she is a girl is totally irrelevant, particularly when it is never explained why there have been none before her. It seems as though Thomas and Theresa knew each other previously, but it never becomes clear – in their own minds or to viewers – the exact nature of their relationship. Perhaps the book, written by James Dashner, provides more clarity in this regard.
Typical teen character clichés abound, from the aggressive alpha male, to the dorky fat kid, to the jocks who have been anointed as maze runners; charged with trying to find a way out. The visual effects are polished without being overblown, perhaps expected given Ball’s background as an effects artist, and one can only imagine how easily such a story could descend into an orgy of chaos and mayhem in the hands of, say, a Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. As it is, Ball provides sufficient action to maintain the tension as the kids embark on their quest for freedom. Overall, The Maze Runner is a satisfactory, if not altogether memorable, viewing experience that will no doubt have considerable appeal to audiences of similar age to the protagonists.