Review: THE MAZE RUNNER (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Review: THE MAZE RUNNER (2014)

2.5 stars
2.5 stars
THE MAZE RUNNER is blessed with intriguing premise and some decent action beats, but not nearly enough to justify this as a satisfying whole.

From TWILIGHT (2008) to DIVERGENT (2014) earlier this year, movies which is based on young-adult (YA) novels are all female-centric. The formula of a successful YA novel is more or less the same template: the female lead is a strong-willed character who wants to make things right and tries to topple over an evil force, usually with the help of a handsome hunk that both of them will eventually fall in love. Add some third-party character that forms a possible love triangle and a few of teen-angst conflicts in the middle, and you got yourself a recipe for a YA novel riped for movie adaptation. But in a refreshing change of pace, I'm glad to see a YA-based movie that isn't female centric but more of a testosterone-driven action adventure. That movie in question is THE MAZE RUNNER, a potentially interesting movie about a bunch of trapped youngsters trying to look for a way out around the mysterious maze. Sounds cool, right? If only the premise is as genuinely entertaining as the execution itself, we might got ourselves a winner for best YA movie adaptation this year. It's just too bad THE MAZE RUNNER can't come close of achieving that though.


Based on the first chapter of a novel trilogy by James Dashner, THE MAZE RUNNER begins with a male teenager (Dylan O'Brien) who finds himself mysteriously awakens in an elevator and has no recollection whatsoever about his past or even his own name. Soon he realizes he's trapped with a bunch of other boys who called themselves the "Gladers" suffered the same fate like his, and forced to survive in a completely enclosed environment as one tight-knit community. Beyond their living space in the middle lies a giant maze where a set of mechanical spider-like monster called the "Griever" is everywhere to stalk for unsuspecting prey. So far, only qualified and experienced "Runner" like leader of the Glade, Alby (Aml Ameen) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) are allowed to enter and explore around the maze, all in hope to look for a way out. Unfortunately, no one has ever manage to locate an exit until the new arrival, who subsequently finds out his name is Thomas, starts to get nosy and determines to escape the maze at all cost.

Prior to directing a feature movie, Wes Ball made quite an impression with his amazing 8-minute short film called Ruin (I suggest you better go check it out right here). It's easy to see why he immediately gets his big break for jumping ship to Hollywood studio production due to his experience for handling theme that set in a dystopian future. For a while there, I thought Wes has a bright future ahead. He manages to hook me from the minute one that jumps straight to the action as he quickly introduces Thomas waking up in an elevator that goes up to the living space around the giant maze. The pace moves confidently as it makes me anticipate what will happen next and keeps me in a loop, like what is the maze? Where does the maze leads to? How dangerous is the "Griever" if one of the characters encounter it? It is these questions that kept me intrigued and interested.

For a movie that carries with a mid-range budget of US$50 million to make, the overall production design is adequate enough while the giant maze design is quite a sight to behold especially when it is shot from the bird's-eye view.

As the lead actor of the movie, Dylan O'Brien has the decent charisma, build and dramatic acting chops to portray an engaging action-oriented performance as the relentless Thomas. Supporting actors are equally worthwhile, with Ki Hong Lee proves to be quite a standout as one of the Runners, Minho while the minor addition of Patricia Clarkson late in the movie adds a subtle touch to the cast.

The first dramatic encounter with the Griever inside the maze; the tense sequence where Thomas and Minho tries to outrun the closing sections of the maze behind them; and the thrilling finale that leads to a surprise reveal of the mastermind's grand scheme.

THE MAZE RUNNER could have worked well if Wes Ball doesn't stall the momentum of the movie too often throughout its nearly two-hour running time. This is where the weakness really rears its ugly teeth. After a strong start, Wes seems to be losing grip of the story as it moves along. Problem is, Noah Oppenheim's adapted screenplay stumbles a lot when comes to expand its expository scene. It doesn't help either when some of the characters aren't fleshed out well. For instance, the inclusion of a sole female character by the name of Teresa, which played by Kaya Scodelario, feels like an obligatory role just for the sake to fulfill the YA genre's checklist. Worst still, Scodelario displays almost little to zero chemistry when the movie attempts to pair her together with Dylan's Thomas character.

Then there's Wes Ball's penchant for shooting most of the dramatic action sequence too tight and up close that it's hard to tell what is going on since many scenes take place in the dark or dimly-lit area. There is one messily-edited sequence where plenty of Grievers come to attack some of the Gladers in their compound. It's really frustrated, and difficult to enjoy whatsoever.


Despite most of the shortcomings, I'm sure that die-hard fans of THE MAZE RUNNER will show up anyway. Don't get me wrong, this movie has tons of potentials. It's just that Wes Ball fails to capitalize it entirely. Let's hope the upcoming sequel, tentatively titled THE SCORCH TRIALS (provided if this first movie made enough money at the box office) can improves further in the future.

* This review is written courtesy from 20th Century Fox Malaysia private screening *

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