Sunday, September 21, 2014

“The Maze Runner” Outraces Most Of Its YA Competitors

While I was reading “The Maze Runner,” I remember being jarred that this was a YA book from the perspective of a teenage boy. Even more jarring, there is one girl in the story, and the fact that she is the odd woman out normally means that she would be the narrator. This simple change means that “The Maze Runner” already stands out from a herd composed mainly of teenage girls whose world revolves around whatever boy they happen to like. There was even more to enjoy in that there was a story that felt intriguing, and if not unique, then it at least had a few good contemporary touches.

But it had it drawbacks too, the main one being my annoyance at the protagonist and his love interest for their self-righteousness, their almost complete inability to empathize with anyone else, and worst of all, their propensity for always being correct and figuring out the answers with very little help.

Luckily, the movie solves that problem by making our hero Thomas (Dylan O'Brien of “Teen Wolf”), more human, more caring about those around him, and just less of an annoying jackass in general. Same goes for the girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who both feel like kids trying to make the best of a bad situation they're thrust into.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Thomas is the teenage boy who wakes up in a very bad situation indeed: a mysterious place called the Glade, an isolated Eden populated by teenage boys of various ages, races, and even nationalities, a perfect fit for the demands of the modern age. All of the boys are blank slates who remember nothing about their lives before the Glade but their names. They are given everything they need to survive, and have long since learned to work together for their common survival before Thomas shows up. But they are surrounded and trapped by the high walls of the Maze, a treacherous place made even more dangerous by the things that go bump in the night: Grievers, ruthless, disgusting, terrifying killing machines who ensure that no one survives a night inside the Maze walls.

Since there's no other way out, the boys figure that if they solve the Maze, the people who put them there will let them go. Or will they?

When Thomas, and a few days later Teresa show up, things start to change quickly, a bit too quickly. Most of the sacrifices are made at the altar of film, and thus feel like a necessary evil. It's a credit to “The Maze Runner” that we barely feel the almost two-hour runtime. But some of the other sacrifices feel less necessary. Compressing the timeline is understandable, but the movie could've gone more into the world that made The Glade and its residents' backstories, rather than putting so much emphasis on the action.

Although, to its credit, the action scenes are genuinely thrilling and fantastic to watch, and there are some very humorous moments that range from light to dark. And while the characters couldn't be considered too layered, they do get you genuinely invested, with even the villains being somewhat sympathetic, and we desperately hope that they can find some sort of peace. The ending may be another franchise nonending, but it's more interesting than most. Hell, it could even be called jaw-dropping. I'm actually more interested in seeing the next movie than reading the next book. And I can count the times I've said that on one hand.

Grade: B-

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