Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in an elevator heading to the top floor. Up to where? From where? With him are supply containers marked “WCKD”. From the get-go the plot starts to unfold although you’ll need to stick with it until the end where it all comes together, sort of. You really sense Thomas’ fear, the look on the face of a boy remembering nothing and being thrust into a scary labyrinth of confusion. A new boy arrives by the same elevator every 30 days.
Like Lost, the situation seems to get a lot muddier before things start to make sense. And amongst all the intrigue figuring out what the hell this maze is all about we have enough hormonal teenage boys to start plenty of fights. Like Lord of the Flies, there are the fat ones, the “thinkers”, the bullies and the popular ones – oh, it’s just like my school days.
The teenagers have to battle through all their own emotions before they have to confront the “Grievers” (robotic beetle-like creatures with a scorpion tale – looks like the 'creature department committee” couldn’t make up their mind) inside the Maze. And then a girl arrives in the elevator. Things just got a lot more interesting.
The producers have trusted the future of this franchise to a brand-new director. Translating James Dashner’s best-selling dystopian novels to the big screen was always going to be compared to Twilight and The Hunger Games. But it’s easy to see why Wes Ball got the gig – with this one film, he graduates from short flicks to blockbuster with flair to spare. The gritty chase scenes are a triumph of action and timing. Where over-editing and CGI seem to be the excuse for a action film these days, The Maze Runners use real cinematic pace and drama to drag us along for the ride. Some of the best chase scenes we’ve seen in years.
The metaphors flow easily: we all run our life in a giant maze. It also raises issues about identity and integrity. Is safety and security worth giving up your right to information and choice? The film doesn’t trash these themes for the sake of some additional action. The themes are integral and well explored.
If the film has a downfall it’s in the answers. The experiences and stories of the “victims” of this folly are fascinating and dramatic as they ask all the questions. But when we start putting together the puzzle we are somewhat underwhelmed by what put the kids inside the maze in the first place. But there will be more of this franchise and I figure the full dystopian back-story will unravel as we get into the second and third films of the series.
Certainly the film looks expensive. The world of the giant maze is totally real and rendered. The acting is rock-solid and a credit to the young cast. You are in the maze along with the young cast and the towering walls are threatening and organic.
You will be gripped, from the first scene. You will be fascinated by the world where we live for the next two or so hours. You will want to escape with them to solve the mystery. You will cheer as the odd Griever is squashed. You will wonder why they didn’t spend a bit more time and money coming up with the film’s monsters.
But all in all, a fulfilling visit to the cinema in what’s, so far, been a poor year. I thought it was a-maze-ing.