Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"The Maze Runner": Better Than Average YA Fiction

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

I’m really quite sick of young adult dystopian fiction.  I know I said this already in my Divergent review, but it stands out to me as one of the most cliché-driven, shallow, and ultimately redundant genres currently in production, relying little more on overdone settings with simple characters that rarely serve as anything but archetypes of the various personalities one would encounter in the high school cafeteria.  That was about what I was expecting when I went into The Maze Runner, and I found myself pleasantly surprised… for the most part.  It’s not a great movie by any means, but mostly works as a passable one, and while the forced cliffhanger ending didn’t really make me want to continue seeing where this franchise plans to go, I think that this film can stand on its own as a decent sci-fi thriller.

The opening shot of the film is on our protagonist Thomas as he ascends on an elevator into a grassy glade.  He has no memory of anything prior to that moment, and he is then surrounded by other teenage boys who also have no memory of a time prior to arriving at the glade.  The various members of this makeshift society explain to him that they are kept there by the maze, a shifting conglomeration of walls that is home to cyborg monstrosities known as Grievers.  A select few runners daily work their way through the maze to try to find a way out, but they have as yet not succeeded.  Circumstance begins to transform Thomas into a natural leader, becoming a voice of progress against voices in the camp that would rather stay put in safety than risk their lives for freedom.

I actually think this is a decent concept.  Sure, the characters aren’t the deepest in cinematic history and telegraph very early which side of the conflict they’re going to be on, but they all get the job done for the purposes of the narrative.  No, what I thought was good about this film was the inherent simplicity of its mysterious plot.  Most young adult fiction places the characters in a flimsy setting where any believable world-building is undermined by the irrationality of its foundation and any symbolism is undermined by its heavy-handedness.  However, what’s nice about The Maze Runner is that what drives the plot is the mystery of what is on the other side of the maze, who put the kids there in the first place, and why.  This isn’t about social commentary or message mongering; this is just a story of a bunch of teenagers trying to survive and understand what’s happening to them, with plenty of the action and puzzle-solving scenes inherent to that set-up.  It’s a nice thematic shift from what this genre usually has in store.

However, by the end of the film, most of that praise can go out the window.  I won’t spoil anything since I’m technically giving this one my recommendation, but the twist ending feels like something that belongs in an M. Night Shyamalan flick, is logically inconsistent at times, and lays the groundwork for the sequels to be the same sort of forced commentary I just criticized.  But ninety percent decent is better than being bad, and while the ending may be a bit of a let-down, the majority of the film has enough merit to be worth a rental.  If nothing else is catching your eye, maybe give this one a shot.

One interesting thing to note is that this film seems targeted at young boys rather than the usually teen reader demographic this genre caters to.  Think that has anything to do with the narrative direction that also stands apart?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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