‘The Maze Runner’ Review: Falling at the finish line

Zig Marasigan
‘The Maze Runner’ Review: Falling at the finish line
'While the film acts as a commendable science fiction thriller, it falls short of being a satisfying one,' writes movie reviewer Zig Marasigan
DYLAN O'BRIEN AS THOMAS. Who is he? They don't really know either, at the beginning. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

There is something admittedly captivating about the recent march of young adult science fiction films. Over the past couple of years, movie theaters have been top billed by either superhero sequels or young adult dystopia.

Although theaters could be flooded by much worse, it’s suffocating to think that commercial moviegoers have been limited to what appears to be clones of The Hunger Games. Thankfully, Maze Runner makes a strong effort to be more than just a cheap knock-off of what’s popular.

Based on the best-selling book series by James Dashner, Maze Runner feels familiar but is still genuinely compelling. A group of young boys are imprisoned in a large glade with little more than their names and a month’s supply of food, rations and tools to keep themselves alive.

But it’s the mysterious concrete labyrinth that surrounds their peaceful glade that becomes the ultimate barrier between the boys and the outside world. When newcomer Thomas (Dylan O’ Brien) decides to bend the rules by venturing out into the maze, he sets in motion a series of events that eventually compromises the peace among the boys.

It’s the mystery of the maze that keeps the story going, but it’s the film’s genuinely thrilling action sequences that keep it entertaining. Maze Runner is far from the mediocre cash-in it easily could’ve been, but unfortunately, there’s just not enough answers to satisfy the film’s many questions.

And while the film acts as a commendable science fiction thriller, it falls short of being a satisfying one. 

Racing forward

As a thriller, Maze Runner makes good use of its screen time. The story flows with the urgency of an enthusiastic sprinter, and while the pace does keep the film from dipping very long into character, it does keep the story’s pulse racing forward. 

DANGER. Can the group get out of the dangerous maze they are in?

Dylan O’ Brien carries most of the film’s weight as the reserved but determined Thomas, but supporting characters Alby (Aml Ameen), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and even the antagonistic Gally (Will Pouter) act as effective foils to Thomas’ disruptive personality. 

Unlike other young adult forays, however, Maze Runner lacks a typical romantic storyline. While there’s untapped potential between Thomas and the film’s only girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Maze Runner makes the less predictable decision of doing without it. 

Unfortunately, the film’s insistence on plot instead of character eventually proves problematic. Without any satisfying answers to the film’s mounting number of questions, there’s not enough to take away from Maze Runner outside of the odd yet thrilling chase through the movie’s ominous labyrinth. 

 

KAYA SCODELARIO. The young actress in a scene from 'Maze Runner.' Photo from 20th Century Fox

Not getting any answers

Despite the film’s brisk plot and refreshingly thrilling sequences, Maze Runner ends with an unsatisfying aftertaste. This isn’t because the film lacks any fundamental components, but rather because Maze Runner presents questions that the film itself isn’t yet ready to answer.

By the story’s end it becomes predictably clear that Maze Runner is setting up a much more ambitious series of films. And while Maze Runner could admittedly do much worse for itself, the real disappointment here is that audiences have to either read the books or wait for the sequel for any tangible answers.

This has become the curse (and the complacency) of the recent glut of franchise films. With so many movies aspiring for sequels and trilogies, many of them have lost sight of delivering deeply compelling and satisfying experiences for the here and now. 

In many ways, Maze Runner feels like a young adult reimagining of television’s Lost: interesting characters tangled in an initially engaging, but ultimately unsatisfying, mystery. While it’s admittedly incredulous to demand all the answers from a continuing story, there is something to be said about being given no answers at all. What makes matters harder to swallow is that Maze Runner ends with more questions in its last ten minutes than its entire two hour running time. 

Although Maze Runner is a vastly superior outing to many of its contemporaries, it stumbles towards the finish line by getting lost in its own labyrinth of questions. Like the film’s imprisoned protagonists, the questions are out there, they just aren’t giving it to us. – Rappler.com

Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.

 

 

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