A young adult novel turned movie series is nothing new.
Dozens of films have been produced in the last few years, most notably the “Harry Potter” series, “The Hunger Games,” and (who could forget) “Twilight.”
Director Wes Ball delivers another such movie with “The Maze Runner” based on the novel by James Dashner.
The movie opens with the yet-to-be-named lead (Dylan O’Brian) gasping for air between fits of vomiting and anxiety. He appears to be in a small, dark and fast moving elevator of some kind. It screeches to a sudden stop and doors open above to blazing sunshine and dozens of teenage boys. The lead is obviously bewildered and confused. All his memories gone, the boys assure him that eventually his name (Thomas) will return to him for it’s the one thing “they” let them keep.
This cryptic “they” shrouds the entire film in mystery, and the audience is never told who “they” are. “They” put the boys there. “They” took away their memories. “They” built the maze.
Each boy is assigned a certain job by the appointed leader, Alby (Aml Ameen), that utilizes their specific skills as they make a life and community in the “glade” (the forest and field surrounded by the imposing ivy-covered walls of the maze). One job given to the strongest and the fastest is that of “runner.” These boys awake early each morning as the gates to the maze open and proceed to run and map as much of the daily-changing maze as possible before night falls when the doors close and the monster-guards of the maze called Grievers come out to eat anyone left in the maze overnight. The runners are looking for a way out.
After a long and complicated struggle that takes up about one-third of the film, Thomas becomes a runner. Alby tells Thomas he is different from the other boys; he is curious. The remainder of the movie is Thomas proving that this difference and another big twist near the end of the film are what make him the savior in the film.
Many close-up facial reaction shots were used in the film. At first it seemed an attempt to give the actors a chance to build their characters. That says something about the quality of acting if they need a big picture of their face to express something. Then it just got distracting. It became a gimmick; either the screen was an aerial shot of the entire “world” or a giant picture of one of the boy’s faces. It was annoying and cheesy. The actors should have stood on their own talents instead of a camera shoved in their faces, but that must have been too much to ask for. Speaking of acting…
Dylan O’Brian isn’t great. Since he is the lead in a young adult film, he deserves some slack, but when he is up against the performance of Aml Ameen as Alby, it’s evident that he just isn’t as talented. Ameen hooks the audience with his performance, and he should have been on camera more. Is it a bad sign when the supporting actor is better than the lead? Probably, and this movie isn’t worth seeing for the acting. Young adult movies rarely are.
Okay, so the acting and cinematography aren’t great, so why does this movie still get 3 stars? The plot. There’s action; there’s ambiguity; there’s a villain that we can’t identify. While there were hints of “Hunger Games” and other young adult stories sprinkled in the plot, this movie was perhaps the most intriguing of the genre. In the film, the boys needed their questions answered, memories regained and pasts found. The audience leaves this movie feeling a part of something bigger, even if they may not know what they are fighting against.
“The Maze Runner” is the first in a series and therefore presents a lot more questions than it answers. Who are “they”? Why are the boys here? And of course, it ends with a favorite of young adult movies: the big twist. People should probably go see the next one; not because it’s the best acting or the best film around, but because it’s just so dang interesting.