Maze RunnerAdapted from a young adult novel like so many movies of late, THE MAZE RUNNER, to its credit, has a noticeable lack of zombies, vampires or the anguish of true love. So, you ask, what does it have? It has an intriguing story of survival, belief, and the very adult reality of having to live with ambiguity. One feature of the film which is unheard of, not only for the YA genre but in general, is an almost complete absence of female characters. Firmly centered in a community of teenage boys there is the periodic puffing of one’s brightly colored feathers but to win over a love interest. Rather, the man-boys play-battle and compete to assure themselves of their ability to cope with their artificially created environment and controlled mysterious circumstances and because, well, that’s what boys do. Boys of all ages… Dylan O’Brien, who plays Thomas, the last male to arrive in The Glade, as their maze surrounded encampment is called, is pretty but not too pretty to be believable. It is hard to determine his age and he carries his role well. Most of O’Brien’s previous acting roles were for television (TEEN WOLF) but he was good as the coolheaded cynical hipster guy in 2013’s THE INTERNSHIP. He has handled the transition to a leading role with confidence but not cockiness. I was delighted to see Will Poulter as the fear filled militaristic Gally, a far cry from his lovable goofball Kenny in WE’RE THE MILLERS. He could not be more different in this film and he even looks somewhat different because of the polar shift in character; his full cheeked face projects force rather than naiveté, his severely arched brows like gashes over calculating eyes. The remainder of The Glade’s population of boy-men span all ethnicities and ages – they even have ranges in body size and shape. It could not be a more equitable society. Except for the girl thing. We are, from the first sound in the darkness, engulfed in fear and helplessness. With no sense of place, meaning or memory Thomas is greeted by a group of boys who release him from the cage in which he has surfaced from far underground. Emerging into a veritable Shangri-La microclimate with woods, water and fields, Thomas suffers from a complete lack of memory and is not given any satisfying explanation of where they are and/or why. Thomas tries to join in the daily rhythm of The Glade but is just too much of a rugged individualist to stop questioning and wanting to go into the maze. With subtle changes in protocol and the operation of the maze, the boys of The Glade, and we the audience, sense that something is going haywire, we are witnessing a radical shift…something bigger is approaching. And then the chick shows up. I will not go further in discussing the plot but the reality is that I do not feel that she, Teresa, is critical to the story’s resolution. Her character has validity and relevance but she could have easily remained in the fog, barely outlined and visible only as a shadow, and the film’s outcome would have been just as satisfying. She is well payed though by Kaya Scodelario and while her hair seems to remain pretty clean and shiny throughout her sojourn in The Glade, I applaud the lack of makeup, sexy clothes or high heels. Let us not forget the stilettos in every action scene of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. OK I’m done with that micro-rant. This is director Wes Ball’s first feature length film and he has an extensive background in science fiction graphics work. It is to his credit that THE MAZE RUNNER  does not end up feeling – like so so many films – like a glorified video game. It easily could have. The scenes inside the maze are exciting and visually arresting. It feels…real. Well, as real as a huge malevolent maze can feel. There is an ancient quality to it, The Glade and the entire premise which keeps the vast majority of the narrative stuck in a framework outside of time. We cannot place ourselves in the past, present or future and it is only the boys clothes which give us any clue as to what century we’re in. The film’s three screenwriters, Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin have apparently done, well, not much before writing this film based upon the highly successful book by James Dashner. Having not read the book it’s impossible for me to say how much interpretation and translation was given to the film but the script is generally rational, cohesive, straightforward and omits many common irritating teen proclivities and euphemisms. THE MAZE RUNNER summons the epic novel Lord of The Flies written by William Golding 60 years ago – more than a generation before our time – but has massaged the story to evolve into a less savage and more PC kind of tale. Without giving anything away, the film delivers a more satisfying, yet still somewhat opaque, resolution. When I use the word ‘resolution’ mind you I am not saying it has all been tied up in a tidy bow. No no – there is the inescapable promise of yet another film to follow in the inevitable Hollywood recipe of story syndication. What earned my respect in a large part was that I did not feel that THE MAZE RUNNER panders to the young adult audience and because of that it has points of entry for all ages. It is a story rife with symbolism and figuration – take what you will from it and there is meat enough for everyone. Is it as ethically gut wrenching as THE HUNGER GAME stories? No, but it does have a way of getting under your skin. And I’m inspired by films dominated by young actors and the chemistry of their ensembles. Even if I’m surrounded by a pack of teenage boys, I for one can tell you that there’s no way I’m heading into a corn maze this Fall… (3.5 / 5)

Director: Wes Ball Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Li, Kaya Scodelario Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 113 mins

Movie Review The Maze Runner

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