Plots centring around people trying to get out of a seemingly impossible predicament have always been of interest to me. The Twilight Zone was famous for having such plotlines (like in the episode ‘Five Characters in Search of an Exit) and I loved them, trying to rack my brain as to seeing what the solution was to the characters’ predicament.
And this is the main reason I went to see ‘The Maze Runner’: its basic concept of characters in an inescapable predicament was a fascinating one to me. But whereas the Twilight Zone episodes took less than 25 minutes to play through its concept, how would TMR manage to hold one’s interest for its 113 minute running time?
The film begins with teenager Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) waking up in an elevator that transports him into a grassy clearing that’s surrounded by an intimidating and elaborate walls. Like the dozens of teenagers that have arrived there before him, he has no memory of his past except for his name. The group of kids have been able to make a living in the area but with an elaborate maze beyond the walls and mysterious creatures patrolling the maze, escape seems hopeless. But as another character observes, Thomas is a curious personality and immediately he’s shaking up the community and begins to make them believe escape is possible… but how and to what?
In many ways, TMR is an impressive work with Wes Ball making a fine directorial debut. He displays a good visual style and sense of pacing that ensures the film is never boring and even gets through the rather clunky chunks of early dialogue necessary to explain the plot (as when the other boys explain the setup to Thomas) as well as possible. At no stage of its running time does the film ever feel boring.
The film also creates a vibrant and interesting dynamic between the group of characters within the maze. Particularly pivotal is the strong performance of O’Brien as central character Thomas; he creates the right sense of characterisation of someone while not automatically heroic, driven by his courage and sense of curiosity to become a leader and find a way out of the maze.
There are also other interesting characterisations such as Gally (Will Poulter) who represents someone whose so used to life within the maze that he becomes hostile to anyone looking to change the setup, let alone escape from the maze. However the conflict between Gally and Thomas is rather heavy-handedly showcased.
For roughly three-quarters of its running time, TMR is a very strong, captivating work. Alas, as is the case in so many movies/TV shows about people stuck in an impossible predicament, the resolution is usually the weakest part as plot holes and contrivances come to the fore and TMR is no exception.
The film’s final 15 minutes are a letdown in more ways than one. Not only are the explanations and revelations unconvincing and contrived, but they’re conveyed by a character having to deliver large chunks of dialogue as if they’re saying to the audience, “We can’t think of a viable way to resolve this film so we’ll just provide you with this information”. In a film that has been so cinematically and visually strong, it is a disappointment (also because it’s about setting up a sequel as much as anything).
Despite the disappointing ending, I was mostly positive about The Maze Runner. It’s well made, solidly acted, well directed and a generally enjoyable night out at the movies. It’s box office success is deserved and I’ll be looking forward to the sequel.