Teen Dystopia Stands Out From The Mediocre Crowd With Great Cast And Thrilling Pace. Mysterious Fun.
The conveyor belt of mediocre teen dystopias has been in hyperdrive of late – Divergent was dross, The Giver was guff and even The Hunger Games: Catching Fire fizzled out. And so it was that I approached the The Maze Runner, the tent pole of the latest tent pole young adult novel adaptation franchise with low expectations. Turns out I was pleasantly surprised.
Based on the first in a four-book sci-fi series by author James Dashner, it’s the debut feature from director Wes Ball and he’s infused the material with a crackling energy and populated it with a great cast too. A sort of futuristic mash up of the Minotaur fable with Lord of The Flies, Dylan O’Brien is charismatic in the lead role of Thomas. We first encounter him, clearly terrified, in a dark and alarmingly clanking industrial lift that hurtles upwards, suddenly depositing him in a fairly idyllic glade that just happens to double as a prison at the heart of a vast and constantly shifting maze.
Thomas, as with all the other boys, and they are all boys in this mysterious colony, has no memory of his past, but haunting flashbacks suggest, as well as hinting at eventual female involvement, that he may well be more closely connected to their unseen captors than he at first realises.
A curious mind with natural leadership qualities, Thomas ruffles a few feathers in the fragile community, particularly Will Poulter’s aggressive Gally who just wants to maintain the status quo. Thomas has more luck with Alby (Aml Ameen), the group’s leader and the first boy deposited in this surreal camp, and with Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt. He also forms a close bond with Minho (Ki Hong Lee), one of the chosen maze runners of the title who spend each day mapping out the ever-changing labyrinth before returning to camp as the walls shudder into life and the terrifying grievers appear – cyborg monsters, half mechanic scorpion, half gross mutation.
It’s a visual feat packed full of thrilling action sequences, and compared to most of these films, there’s a welcome racial diversity. Where it does fall down a little is that strange lack of female characters. Had the reason for this been made clearer at some point or other, it would be easier to take, but the mystery of The Maze Runner is held until the final scenes, with much left unsaid, to be revealed, no doubt, in the sequels.
Kaya Scodelario does eventually show up as Teresa, the only girl ever sent to the glade, and there’s some fun with her hiding up a wooden structure hurling rocks at the boys, but the presumed tensions that would erupt in a camp full of imprisoned teenage boys and one solitary girl are never truly explored, which is shame. Scodelario does the best she can with what little screen time Teresa enjoys, she’s unconscious for a few scenes, with the revelation she recognises Thomas interesting. Together they hope to convince the camp that freedom is the only option and that they must face their fear of the maze and find a way out.
Not as dumb as some, with a strong cast having a ball with the rough and tumble, The Maze Runner is a cut above despite a few niggles. Ball shows a great deal promise as an action director with some nous. Hopefully the sequels can keep up the frenetic pace and give J-Law and co a run for their money, if only the female quota is boosted, or the lack thereof explained.
Stephen A Russell