The Maze Runner is a labyrinth of disappointment
I wish I could say The Maze Runner was a suspenseful and intriguing film that held me captivated until the very end, but I cannot. There are a few redeeming qualities, but not enough to make up the ground lost by sloppy direction and a bad script.
The screenplay, based upon the novel The Maze Runner by James Dashner, appears to have been modified from its source material just enough to lose some critical detail, and obscure the overall exposition of the story. What may be worse are the numerous, glaringly obvious, and frustrating, plot holes left behind. In a book, it is possible to write a story from the point of view of a single character with no memory, where the reader and the primary character discover everything together. This is possible in a book, even intriguing, it is next to impossible on film. The two mediums are different enough to make a direct translation next to impossible. In that respect, this adaptation failed. There was not enough compensation in the script to make up for the loss of explanation. When elements of the story were modified or removed, they were not filled in to close the resulting plot hole. Finally, in the end there is not enough resolution to satisfy the questions that arose during the film, leaving the film feeling incomplete.
I cannot lay the blame for these failures solely at the feet of the screenwriters. While I think Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin failed to adapt the book appropriately to the screen, a significant amount of blame falls to director Wes Ball. In many ways, Ball simply failed to direct the film, seeming to trust the visual elements and effects to propel the story. This lack of direction left too many inconstancies on screen. What the characters do and say seem to be at odds at times, while the visual elements were largely left unexplained or justified. For example, these boys had been living inside this maze for years, but they all appeared, visually, to have only been there a few weeks. While that may sound like a minor detail that should be easy to dismiss, it is also an easy detail to address but lazy directing ignored it. I think this detail is only annoying because it would have been too easy to address, and highlights the lack of care Wes Ball took with the story, focusing instead on the menacing maze and the creatures that inhabit it.
The Maze Runner is about Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who wakes up with no memory in the center of a massive maze. The Glade, as they call it, is already inhabited by dozens of other young boys, who have all been assigned specific jobs to ensure they survive. They rely on regular deliveries of supplies and a new captive every month. Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and the group’s leader Alby (Aml Ameen) befriend Thomas, and to him that everyone there has no memory of anything that happened before they woke up in the glade. They are surrounded by an ever changing maze inhabited by vicious monsters they call Grievers. Solving the maze appears to be their only means of escape, and solving the maze is up to The Runners. Thomas is inexplicably drawn to the maze, but the rules of the glade forbid anyone but runners from entering. This attraction puts him at odds with Gally (Will Poulter) one of the runners who instinctively mistrusts Thomas. When one night Alby and Minho (Ki Hong) fail to return to the glade Thomas rushes into the maze before the doors slam shut for the night. This catapults Thomas into a dangerous confrontation with the Grievers, and changes everything about the maze and their hopes for escape.
The maze is the shining redemption of the film. Its design and pliability almost elevate the scenery into a menacing villainous character. It is unfortunate that more time was not spent actually exploring that environment which proved to be the most interesting part of the film. The Grievers were large and intimidating, and sufficiently creepy to prove too scary for the youngest audience members. The confrontations with the Grievers in the maze is easily the most enjoyable part of the film, but still falls flat due to a lack of connection with the one dimensional characters.
The Maze Runner is rich with potential, which cuts itself off at the knees with plot holes, poor execution and lack of exposition. The falls flat in the third act when the rising action fails to deliver as reasonable resolution. 2 out of 5