Overview: That kid from Teen Wolf stars in a surprisingly good Young Adult adaptation. 20th Century Fox; 2014; PG-13; 113 minutes.
That’ll Do, Piggy: I could go on and on about how every new YA franchise wants to be the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games without establishing its own central premise. So often do they strive to copy-and-paste what works with other franchises without ever understanding why these elements work in the first place. For the majority of its runtime (I’m talking like 80-90%) The Maze Runner is able to accomplish just that: establishing its own world with its own set of rules that are familiar to fans of the YA/dystopian future/”chosen one” story. What helps separate this YA film from others is attention to action, performances, and simple story setup.
The action is fast and brutal. There’s a level of intensity to The Maze Runner that some larger blockbusters couldn’t maintain this summer. Not every boy makes it out of the movie alive, raising the stakes to some surprisingly high levels. It also helps that the acting is solid from top to bottom.
The Status Quo: The actors all genuinely excel within the material presented, but it’s O’Brien who stands tallest. Dylan O’Brien is a capable lead as Thomas, a boy who decides to go against tradition and fulfill his destiny (because all YA leads have one now). O’Brien got his fame from MTV’s Teen Wolf and presents a charismatic enough performance that the YA tropes don’t overwhelm him. I even almost considered watching Teen Wolf (I don’t acknowledge any Teen Wolf that doesn’t involve Michael J. Fox). Kaya Scodelario has a welcome presence, but she has as much to do as a piece of cardboard carved into the shape of exposition. Viewers will want to see her play a more prominent role in the story, but she’s an “until next time” character, which is the biggest problem within the film.
Next Time, Baby: Towards the end of the 113 minute picture, the threads start to come lose. I won’t spoil anything, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as some people claim. It’s just really fucking weird. There’s no real closure for the story in which we’ve just invested for 90 minutes. An effective climax turns into rising action and sequel bait. There is no greater offense to modern franchise building than sequel-baiting an audience. Tell your own complete story first, then give us a great sequel.
Overall: While never straying too far from traditional conventions, and though certainly flawed in a traditional narrative sense, The Maze Runner has an opportunity to earn its place as the second best YA movie franchise currently on the market.