Movie Review/Movies/My Culture

Catholic Movie Reviews: The Maze Runner

PG-13

MPAA Rating

Life Teen Rating

Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking

Yet another young-adult, high-concept novel makes a splash on the big screen hoping to capitalize on the success of The Hunger Games and Divergent. In a visually impressive debut, director Wes Ball gets to show off his action chops and handles a lackluster script with the confidence of a veteran.

Well-executed but lacking in emotional depth, The Maze Runner entertains as an exercise in action and suspense, but fails to transcend its genre and provide a truly memorial experience worthy of it’s planned sequel.

The story is essentially Lord of the Flies mixed with an episode of the Twilight Zone. Thomas — played with believable intensity by relative newcomer Dylan O’Brien—is transported into the center of a mysterious maze where a group of about 60 adolescent boys have been growing their own food to survive while a select few have been chosen to explore the dangerous maze in order to find a way out. Nobody has memories of their life prior to the maze; and three years of exploration has yielding no means of escape.

The mini-society is highly structured. Everybody understands their roles and questions are discouraged. Through trial and error they have learned to coexist peacefully while trusting the leadership of the benevolent Alby.

Thomas arrives, and as expected, shakes things up by asking questions and breaking rules. He wants to explore the maze but is told that the “runners”—appointed by the group based on their demonstration of a particular skill set—are the only ones allowed. Thomas’s unconventional ways cause strife in the group and leads to a faction. As the boys decide their allegiances—weighing the possibility of freedom with the possibility of death—battles are fought within the maze with giant, semi-robotic spiders called “grievers”. Time turns against the boys who realize they must all battle the maze if they hope to survive.

In the meantime, a teenage girl shows up who seems to remember Thomas and nothing else. Their mysterious past may hold the key to the group’s survival.

The setup is definitely intriguing and the cast is talented. But writing a lead character with amnesia is a significant challenge. The Bourne Identity, for example, handles he challenge with a deft touch—creating empathy for a character the audience knows little about. The Maze Runner, however, mishandles the delicate balancing act of maintaining mystery while developing a strong audience connection to the key characters. We simply don’t know who they are for most of the film; and this knowledge vacuum is not adequately compensated for by colorful personality distinctions. A little humor could have done a lot of good to alleviate this problem.

The lone female—Teresa—is also a wasted role. Her psychological effect on the all-boys club and her necessity to the plot are almost completely unexplored ideas. Perhaps a sequel will provide more depth.

On the upside, there are genuine moments of tightly directed suspense. The cinematography is excellent and the visual effects are nearly seamless. The grievers are especially terrifying and the danger feels very real.

What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie

The film does an admirable job of highlighting courage and self-sacrifice. And there are authentic moments of humility and self-reflection. 

But a broader message is hard to find. It is mostly high-concept entertainment.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie

There are a few instances of rough language, a brief moment of underage drinking, and a discreet suicide. The violence and occasional gore seem realistic and genre appropriate. Nothing feels gratuitous.

The overall lack of objectionable material is refreshing.

That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments

This film is taking itself just a bit too seriously for the genre. How about a moment of tension relief with some wit?

Teresa is a total disappointment as a character.

Gally is perfectly cast as the leader of the faction.

I wish there was more to the maze than robot spiders and moving walls.

The sound design is excellent. It really helps the suspense.

Did anybody ever try to climb down the elevator shaft to escape?

How the heck are these boys so well groomed? Who is cutting their hair?

About the Author

Ryan O'Connell

After a hard day of work, I look forward to a little exercise, some blues guitar, and a moving-picture creation by my ex-employer and fickle lover, Hollywood. I’m also a fan of basketball, sketch comedy, and vigorously defending my beliefs using this academic gimmick called “truth.” God has blessed me with the most loyal friends a guy could ask for, and a disturbing inability to not laugh at stupid jokes.

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