The Maze Runner (2014)

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I miss the smart, bone-chilling dystopian films; the ones that didn’t place their trust in twenty-somethings expounding blood and sweat and sexual tension. I miss the ones that made you think. Blade Runner (1982), The Trial (1962), Brazil (1985), hell, The Matrix (1999). When I was a teen, the movie scene was saturated with stories of magic and vampires. Today, the darlings of the young adult scene have teens pit against one another in fights to the death, while backed into corners by oppressive governments. Yikes. It’s not a new trend, resourceful teens muddling out the politics of societal harmony and creation — but I’d venture to say it’s certainly the first time that the genre has been so incredibly popularized, and specifically catering to the teen, pre-teen audience.

The Maze Runner starts with incredible force and intrigue. In the opening moments, we’re trapped in a metal cage, shooting skyward — a panicked figure shrouded in darkness wildly throws himself to and fro, screaming for help. The boy finally reaches the surface, the earth opening up to a brood of mangey boys staring down into the confines of the cage. The world we are in is referred to by its occupants as The Glade. It’s a large patch of land with grass and a forest, and it might be picturesque, if not for the inscaleable walls which serve as its borders. We soon learn that each month a new “recruit” is sent to this Glade, always a boy, along with supplies. They always arrive with their memories wiped. The “runners” map the maze during the hours when its doors are open and return to the Glade before the doors shut, should they fall victim to the mysterious beasts who wail beyond the walls at night.

The Maze Runner is startlingly similar to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, right down to the fat kid who reaches an untimely death. But, where Golding’s novel features exclusively British, white boys, The Maze Runner is if not gender-diverse, then at least it’s ethnically diverse. Unfortunately it doesn’t do its casting effort justice. In the vast multi-racial community that has managed to thrive and survive for years, the true alpha is not surprisingly, a white boy who figures out in a matter of days, secrets of the maze that the others hadn’t found before. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is the special snowflake in question — his unflinching masculinity, the decisiveness in every move he makes sets him above the rest of the Gladers, even when they have two years experience on him. Some of the Gladers have a kind of reverence for Thomas, “he’s different than the others. Curious.”, as if it were fundamentally strange that a person would question being forcefully placed into a labyrinth of death. The sentiment of “you’re not like the others” is inevitably engrained from the very beginning, but I didn’t think they’d be so cringey as to say that very line outright.
What’s the appeal of the story to today’s teens? Is there a gnawing suggestion at a lack of self-sufficiency that young people actively seek out? Is that what teens want? A chance to fend for themselves and express a sort of conceited independence? Maybe the life of your typical teen is so fundamentally dull and without difficulties that a death-around-every-corner hell is an escape. In that sense, The Maze Runner caters perfectly to those dystopian dreamers. However, it’s all a little too perfect, and inexcusably one-dimensional. The film is well-crafted, but doesn’t go beyond that, which is a disappointment considering its intriguing beginning, which fizzles to nothing by the two-thirds mark.

The Maze Runner (2014)
Dir. Wes Ball
Starring Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee
113 mins | USA

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