Movie Review: 'The Maze Runner' (2014)

A social experiment and dystopian adventure rolled into one,“The Maze Runner” takes an understated approach to a story that is more of a character study than anything else. When a young man (Dylan O’Brien) wakes from unconsciousness, he is greeted by a young adult, and all-male community.

Following a tour and how-to guide on the workings and pecking order of the pseudo-society, Thomas (O’Brien) begins to question everything that he’s told, leading to a passive aggressive revolution of sorts.

A steady pace and intriguing mystery are this dystopian adaptation’s best attributes as its lead character navigates a thorny web of interpersonal relationships in a foreign world. Contrasting the stark and claustrophobic storyline is verdant cinematography that provides a visual contrast to the story’s bleak countenance.

As far as post-apocalyptic stories go, “The Maze Runner” stays nebulous within regards to that particular facet of its narrative. How do we know the outside world is actually in any chaos? How do we know it’s not just a human experiment? What truly lies beyond the walls of the maze? These are the questions that fuel the curiosity of Thomas and viewers.

Questioning what’s been said and pushing the boundaries of authority are the thorny issues that permeate the mind of Thomas, an alright hero who’s self-confidence is given little surface reasoning.

As a result, his pushy assurance and outright determination has a hard time not coming across as baseless arrogance. It’s a quality that doesn’t go unnoticed by his newfound compatriots.

The character dynamics and exploration of human nature in its most innate form soon comes into full focus. Lacking any memory of their previous lives (Thomas recalls a few fragmented glimpses), the group acts completely from their nature. Their natural instinct towards their own hierarchy comes sharply into play and provides the movie with an abundance of mental food for thought.

One such morsel is how mutiny’s effectiveness is based on a psychological head game that sprouts from other’s quiet discontent, making it possible for violence to rarely be victorious. For instance, the brutish force of Gally (Will Poulter) finds fleeting success among the group after Thomas simply sparks a newfound hope, rendering physical action relatively irrelevant.

As a whole the cast does a fine job. O’Brien is dealt the challenging responsibility of starring in every scene and he manages to handle it with impeccable skill. While Will Poulter makes a deft dramatic turn as the ferocious Gally. Cinematically the story’s lack of romance, humor or a decent villain keeps it from being well-rounded. 

A bio-mechanical spider monster doesn’t make for a particularly interesting bad guy. Unless we’re talking about Alien or Predator, a fully realized human villain is typically preferable.

The continued incorporation of young children is an uneasy element that heightens the tragic ambiance. It is the ending that proves to be the film’s greatest hurdle, an emotional whiplash that throws off its overall tone.

“The Maze Runner” manages to find its way amid a few pitfalls. Similar to its eponymous labyrinth, it’s not all that it appears to be at first, provoking deeper thought than common fare. The maze provides a display for the human spirit; the never ending curiosity and driving ambition towards something they assume will be greater. It is also an apt illustration of what it takes to survive that other four letter puzzle: life. Rating: 6.7/10

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