Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014) movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Intriguing mystery premise, well rounded characterisations, magnificent production design, well paced narrative, touches on social commentary

The Bad: cliched storyline, shaky camera cinematography, "designated hero" syndrome for main character

3D Readiness: Post filming 3D conversion.
IMax-ability: Tight shaky shots of running do not work in iMax. 

His name is Thomas. That is all he knows. He has been sent via the mysterious "box" into a contained colony of boys called "the glade". Nobody knows why they are there, only that they cannot leave. Around the glade lies the maze where only the fastest and bravest among them, dubbed "maze runners", get to explore in the hopes of finding a way out. Thomas' arrival causes a schism among the boys and strange incidents start happening one after the other. As the perfect peaceful society of the Glade is slowly torn asunder, Thomas must unravel the secrets of the maze and confront the horrors within. 

Secrets, half-truths, and a sense that all is not what it seems. I have always loved a good sci if mystery. Our premise of a community of male teens isolated from the world is a premise many would be familiar with. The group rivalries, the competition for alpha male status, the unique lifestyle and forms of punishment; MAZE RUNNER takes advantage of its slow moving first half to build that world of lost boys. All the while, the constant mystery of the maze lingers. And just when things start to wind down, the writers throw more surprises into the mix which give the film a much needed sense of urgency. What are these surprises? No spoilers now. But rest assured, this movie has great pacing.

MAZE RUNNER is how I always imagined a gritty blockbuster movie would look based on those printed mazes in activity books we used to trace with crayons when we were kids. The maze itself is marvelously designed, oozing with a sense of dread. The ominous walls combines an ancient monolithic look with pieces of worn out future tech peeking out the corners; just enough to give this uneasy sense of that something is not quite right. Couple all that with some truly spine chilling sound effects and the movie starts to cross into horror territory. 

It is to mazes kind of like what they did to a simple board game called Battleship. Unlike the battleship movie, MAZE RUNNER gives us some well rounded characters with believable motives and decent development. Yes you have some clich├ęd stereotypes in the benevolent but status quo upholding leader, the hot headed "warrior chief" alpha male edging for a fight, the conflicted second in command, and an adorable sidekick for the main character. Yet it is this sense of familiarity with the character archetypes and the isolated single gender community setting that let's one ease into the story without being alienated by the already alienating premise.

Amazing as the movie is, MAZE RUNNER is not without some flaws. Main character Thomas suffers from the typical designated hero syndrome. He is not a kid who earns his heroism or the respect of the group. From the get go, everything important revolves around him, he is able to do startling things that no one else can. You know he is special and the plot does not hide that or let it develop naturally. Director Wes Ball crafts a decently paced narrative with top notch special effects, but the visuals tend to be marred by his obsession with out of focus shaky cameras in action scenes. Perhaps the biggest misstep is some poorly placed flashbacks that could have completely ruined the mystery element for audiences familiar with certain video games (hint: Portal). 

I admit to not having read the original book so I would not know how close it is to the source material. On its own, MAZE RUNNER is The grandchild of LORD OF THE FLIES and TV's LOST. It combines tried and true story beats sieved through an intriguing premise and a decent mystery (despite being almost undone by the ill advised flashbacks). It avoids many mistakes other adaptations of young adult novels make, like lingering on romance subplots, and leaves a decent sequel hook that leaves you wanting more.

*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: B+
Characters: A
Music: B+
Replay value: A
"Brains": B

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