The Maze Runner
WCKD is good
And so is The Maze Runner.
The Maze Runner sprinted through the box office this weekend, almost breaking even on its budget by earning $32 million from the United States alone and solidifying its sequel to release in September of next year. Great for the series: it has established itself as one of those never-ending young adult franchises where it’s up to teens to overthrow a futuristic nation’s corrupt government (which is probably its own genre by now). Also great for audiences: we get more of the series that took off with a great start with almost no legwork.
The Maze Runner is directed by Wes Ball, a newcomer to the director’s chair who should probably stay there. His intrusive camerawork is only complimented by the film’s young crop of stars lead by Dylan O’Brien, who undoubtedly guided his legion of pre-included Teen Wolf fans to theaters. Previously a special effects artist, Ball’s direction stays light on CGI (though the small doses included are eye-popping) and focuses more on the film’s satisfying sets and cast.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film is its premise, however. Based on a book of the same title by James Dashner, the film begins with shaky, rugged camera movement showing Thomas (O’Brien) waking up and panicking in a small metal box carrying him upwards through a claustrophobic tunnel. He is being transported to a field called the Glade, where he finds a group of other teenage boys similarly trapped by four walls encapsulating them within an enormous, seemingly unsolvable maze.
None of the boys know anything about their situation, not even leaders Alby (Aml Ameen) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), though that doesn’t stop Thomas from trying to find answers. Though everyone had their memory wiped before entering, Thomas instinctively knows he wants to be a Runner – a position in the Glade’s organized hierarchy for people to run through the maze and attempt to find a way out. This job does come with a few minor downsides, however, such as the maze being infested with deadly metal slug monsters called Grievers at night, and the maze rearranging itself constantly.
As Thomas explores the maze with fellow Maze Runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee) he slowly discovers clues about the mysterious organization WCKD who put them in the maze, and that he may actually be in cahoots with the organization himself.
Wait! Slow down for a second, Thomas, and let’s focus on the maze. For a budget as low as $34 million, the maze Ball designed and filmed in Louisiana looks realistic and intimidating. The set is designed to crank out numerous action sequences (all of which involve running crazily enough, from outsprinting shifting walls to outsprinting Grievers). The maze has an aura of mysteriousness and endlessness that makes every scene inside of it suspenseful. The audio is garbled and echo-y to reflect how tall the walls are, and while it’s a cool trick, it does make the dialogue (which is mostly shouting already) even more difficult to decipher.
Which does a great disservice to the cast of surprisingly effective young actors. O’Brien establishes his worth as a leading man, and when matched with his role in Teen Wolf and 2013’s The Internship, could be a Zac Efron-sized heartthrob in upcoming years. The only disappointment is Lee as Minho, a pocket of dead air that bobbed in to replace the book’s most interesting character. Will Poulter as Gally, the Glade’s resident bully, finds a fine balance between being likable and antagonistic, until the script (as dictated by the book’s plot) throws aside all likability in the film’s final act.
Complimented by the book’s constantly thrilling story, The Maze Runner will entertain and engross audiences until they find the theater’s exit. The final act is heavy handed with setting up the required sequel, but so is the book to which the film remains mostly faithful. If the sequel’s set looks as good as the sneak preview we got in the film’s closing shot, this maze could easily be beaten.