Ian Frazier ’15

If there is one salient trend in the film industry today, it is the adaptation of young adult, dystopian novels to the big screen. Ever since the monumental success of The Hunger Games films, studios scrambled to capitalize on the latest profit-producing craze. Moviegoers have been subject to brazen imitations such as Divergent, The Giver, and now, The Maze Runner. The film opens with an amnesiac adolescent nicknamed Greenie (Dylan O’Brien), inexplicably arriving in a solitary steppe occupied by other forgetful youths. The company is surrounded by an insolvable maze, devouring anyone who lingers inside for a night. While adjusting to his new environment, Greenie is forced to endure loneliness, vague memories, and inept child actors. The film is hampered, not only by the performers’ lack of acting background, but by the one-dimensional characters. Even the insipid Divergent managed to create multiple layers for its lead. With The Maze Runner, the characters do not develop, learn, or engage the audience. It is evident that the filmmakers fixated too much on the situation the teens were in, relying on the maze to tell the story, rather than the people. In such a confined setting, the story has to serve the characters, not the other way around.

The filmmakers also miss a clear opportunity to take advantage of an intriguing concept. There is something very enigmatic about a group of isolated teenagers struggling to survive on their own, trying and failing to maintain order among some anxious characters. However, the film never dives into the psychological aspects of the community, an idea that could be explored in compelling forms. In fact, the world is actually more utopian than dystopian. Each captive does his job without complaint, and when the maze does consume someone, there seems to be no genuine anguish from the group. The absence of emotion from the characters prevents the film from finding meaning below the surface.

There is no shortage of twists in the film. In fact, it feels like they are incessant. Once the first few tolerable twists materialize, the remaining ones are contrived and incongruous. There is a distinct difference between surprising and sensical revelations, a difference that the screenwriters fail to understand. The screenplay is penned by three different writers, not including the novel’s author. With so many clashing visions, the result is an over-polished, banal product. It is also striking that almost everyone involved in the filmmaking process had less experience than the actors. The three screenwriters and the director Wes Ball worked on The Maze Runner as their first feature film, allowing their inexperience to reveal itself.  When a studio hires four individuals who have never written or directed a full-length movie before, it is expected that the executives be patient; however, it was decided that the film be shot in three months (The Hunger Games was shot in five), likely forcing a hurried outcome.

Aside from an interesting concept, a few unique set pieces, and above-average visual effects, the film falls flat. The characters are underdeveloped when they need to be fascinating, the script is generic when it needs to be profound, and the execution is rushed when it needs to take its time. Overall, The Maze Runner’s twists and turns lead to dead ends.

Rating (out of 4 stars): ⭐

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