I’ve never read The Maze Runner and I didn’t hear particularly good things about the movie. And yet I watched it anyway and we all know why: Stiles.
The thing is, The Maze Runner actually has a decent amount of potential. Unfortunately, it fumbles that potential pretty hard all throughout the film.
I’ll hold off on any Big Time Twists until the end, per usual, but there may be MILD SPOILERS throughout the review, primarily for things that happen in the first ten minutes or so.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up with no memory, which is probably scary at the best of times. Unfortunately, this is far from the best of times, as he is immediately lifted up into a community of other amnesiac prisoners, all of the male gender, only to discover that his only chance of escape will mean running through a monster-infested maze that completely folds up at night.
1. I’m going to spend the next few thousand words or so criticizing this movie, so let me be clear about this: given the choice between watching The Maze Runner and, say, Red Riding Hood, I’d watch The Maze Runner again in a heartbeat. Some of the scenes are effectively claustrophobic and/or creepy. There are some fun action sequences. I didn’t always know where the story was going, which made it more exciting to watch. (I can’t say that I love where the story went, but still. Occasional suspense was there.) This isn’t a great movie, but at the end of the day, it’s a relatively easy way to spend two hours.
2. Still, it could have been a lot better.
Part of the problem I had with this movie was that I didn’t buy how a lot of the characters behaved. Take the Lost Boys, for instance. (My name, not theirs. Possible alternatives: the Golding Guys, the Conch Kids.) In the beginning, Thomas has a lot of questions about his situation, as you might, only no one will provide any straight answers. Which is fine if the characters have an actual reason to conceal information from Thomas, but as far as I can tell, they have no such motivation; they’re just concealing information from the audience. This leads to dumb moments like this:
Thomas: “So, what’s that giant thing over there?”
Alby: “Yeah, so, we only have three rules. The most important is this: you don’t ever go inside the giant thing.”
Thomas: “Okay, but that doesn’t actually answer my question. Forget it, I’ll just go take a closer look by myself.”
Chuck: “Dude, you can’t go in there.”
Thomas: “Why not? What’s in there?”
Chuck: “I don’t know. I mean, it’s a maze — shit, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that — but for some unspecified reason, only certain people get to go in there, and you’re not one of them. Also, it’s not safe right now.”
Thomas: “That . . . frustratingly non-specific. And I don’t know if I blindly trust you guys anyway, seeing how I’ve known you all for approximately fifteen minutes and you’re refusing to answer even my most basic questions. But fine, I’ll just walk a little closer.”
Thomas pokes around the Maze, acting like he might possibly step inside, despite the super vague warning of doom. Suddenly, Gally (Will Poulter) tackles him from out of nowhere, and the Maze entrance turns into a larger version of that garbage compactor room from Star Wars.
Alby: “You should be grateful. He saved your life.”
Thomas: “Dude, YOU could have done that without all the unnecessary manhandling. All anyone had to say was, ‘Hey, man. This is a maze, and it crunches at nightfall.’ Why is that so difficult? What is WRONG with you people?”
Okay, so Thomas may never have actually said of the sort, but he totally should have. There are a lot of moments like this throughout the beginning of the movie, and they’re supposed to build intrigue, but mostly, they’re just annoying.
3. The bland characters are problematic, too.
I’m aware I’m biased, of course, but I think Dylan O’Brien does what he can with Thomas — he does have a couple of reaction shots I like, if one regrettable chaaarge moment — but ultimately, there’s simply no making this guy interesting. Thomas is just a collection of YA tropes lazily assembled into a lead character. You know, he’s the Savior, the Special, the Chosen One. Only he has none of Buffy’s wit, Katniss’s fire, or Liu Kang’s bicycle kicks. Thomas’s main claim to hero legitimacy (and only actual character trait) is his curiosity. Alby specifically tells Thomas that he’s different from all the other boys, that unlike any of them, he actually asks questions.
And on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with that. Thomas’s instinct to always keep pushing further no matter the costs could be compelling, particularly when put at odds with Gally’s instinct to protect what he’s come to understand as home. Both boys essentially want the same thing — to save the others — but they can’t agree on how to approach it. Thomas wants to save everyone by getting them the hell out, while Gally wants to do it by keeping order, ensuring that no one else dies. What’s cool about this is that both perspectives are totally valid and understandable — or would be, if the writers bothered to give anyone in this movie character depth.
Thomas is bad because his supposedly insatiable, game-changing curiosity just reads like a pretty normal person asking pretty normal questions, which only serves to make all the other Lost Boys look like cowardly morons. But the writers probably fail the hardest with Gally.
You can tell Gally is going to be The Maze Runner’s King Douchebag the moment you meet him, which is unfortunate. The movie would be about sixteen times stronger if Gally was just this normal guy with, like, a personality and everything, who comes to hate Thomas for all the certain death he’s sure the dude represents to his people. Which, yeah, is basically what Gally says — but the problem is he says it long before there’s any real evidence to suggest that Thomas does present a real danger. Gally hates Thomas from the outset, and as his only character trait is assholitis, their entire conflict feels extremely manufactured for Maximum Drama. (To be fair, there is another reason Gally despises Thomas — but it’s pretty lame and unnecessary.)
4. To be clear, I don’t blame Will Poulter for this particular failure. I don’t blame any of the actors, actually; sure, nobody gives an amazing performance, but then again almost every actor is stranded with almost zero to do. I’m generally happy whenever Thomas Brodie-Sangster shows up, but Newt’s primary role in this movie is delivering exposition. Alby (Aml Ameen) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) are both relatively likable (and yes, cute), but Alby is nearly as tropetastic as Gally, and Minho’s whole character arc basically takes place over the course of five minutes. I didn’t come to this movie expecting phenomenally well written characters or anything, but considering the movie clearly wants me to care about these people, this is some weak ass writing.
5. And I kind of wish we got to see more of the Maze itself.
Mind you, this is a relatively minor complaint, but we do sacrifice some time really exploring the inside of this Maze to focus on all the Lord of the Flies society shit, which would be fine if I BOUGHT any of the LotF society shit, but yeah. See the previous notes. In the meantime, this is a massive, moving, monster-filled maze we have here that represents the biggest obstacle to the boys’ freedom, and I just feel like there are missed opportunities to really make it this fantastic, gargantuan beast. At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt to have Thomas actually get lost in it by himself a few minutes.
6. Finally, I feel that I’m left with a lot of questions by the end of the movie. This is somewhat understandable as there’s a sequel coming out later this year, and obviously some of those questions were intentional. But I’m not convinced all of them were. We get this Big Reveal at the end of the movie, right, and roughly a week after seeing it, I’m still like . . . Yeah, I don’t understand how this makes any kind of sense. At all.
I guess I’ll have to check out The Scorch Trials if I want any kind of elucidation. Unfortunately, I’m not Thomas — my curiosity isn’t insatiable, and while I could watch the sequel, I’m not sure I need to know the answers all that badly.
More proof that I will never be your Dystopian Hero.
The first thing I don’t understand at all: why are there no girls except The One Girl?
Before I get into that, though, let me quickly take you through a rundown of the last twenty minutes: Curious Thomas leads most of the group into the Maze after he’s discovered a way out. Leader Alby is already inevitably dead by this point — I think one of the black characters makes it? — and Gally opts to stay behind with a few other boys. Lots of red shirts are killed on the journey, but the Lost Boys + Wendy finally make it out of the Maze and into some kind of basement. The part where they see an honest-to-god actual EXIT sign? Now, that shit is funny. More of that, please.
Anyway, they start walking through this creepy ass bunker. It’s primarily creepy because there are dead bodies all over it. We’ve seen the bunker before too — sans corpses — in Thomas’s dreams. See, throughout the film, Thomas has been dreaming about his past, and we eventually learn that he and Wendy — actually Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) — used to work for the bad guys! In an amnesia story! I’m shocked!
Yes, my ongoing disappointment with Group Amnesia Movies (or almost any amnesia movie, really) continues. They’re nearly always easy to predict. Protagonists have either voluntarily worked for the villains, or they only seemed like they were working for the villains, when they were actually secret good guys all along — either way, the twist is not surprising. (Weirdly, Thomas and Teresa seem to be do both. I’m assuming we’ll get more explanation in the sequel?) Meanwhile, if anyone else discovers that they were once a bad guy — and it will always be the person you suspect — they will immediately revert to their mustache-twirling villain status. Unlike clear protagonists, amnesiac villains rarely show the capacity for change.
To make that point clearer, let me try applying it to The Maze Runner directly. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Thomas and Teresa once worked for the evil company WCKD — pronounced Wicked, which only reminded me of this — but say that had just been what the movie wanted you to think. Well, then, the only other character who could work for WCKD is, of course, the chief antagonist, Gally. Despite the fact that this movie is chock full of amnesiacs, we all know that no one like Newt or Minho or Alby or Chuck will turn out to be secretly evil. Which is mildly disappointing because that actually would have been a surprise. And if Gally had been secretly evil, then he’d only have regained his memories and reverted to Super Evil. He wouldn’t be able to learn anything from the experience, like Thomas.
Anyway, that’s all off point rambling. Back to the story: Wendy and the Lost Boys watch a video where Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) explains the Truth About the Maze: WCKD has put boys through dozens of horrible trials in the hopes of studying their brains to figure out a cure for this whole super terrible plague deal.
I have many follow-up questions.
1. How much of that bullshit is actually true? Some of it seems to be, considering that the sky has indeed been scorched, but some of it clearly isn’t, as we’ll find out when Ava Paige turns out to be not so dead after all. I don’t object to the silly idea that the Maze was only THE FIRST TEST, or whatever. (Okay, I don’t object much.) But seriously, folks:
1A: If this has all been about finding the cure . . . I mean, the antidote’s the cure, right? (Oh, I forgot about that. Okay, so the Maze monsters — called Grievers for no particular reason that I can tell — sting people and infect them with this horrible veiny rage disease that’s nowhere near as impressive as the one in 28 Days Later. When Teresa enters the Glade, though, she finds two syringes worth of antidote in her pocket.) So . . . doesn’t WCKD already have what its looking for? Does the antidote not actually work on everybody? Are they testing who it does work on? Or is this antidote/cure just some new and very conveniently timed breakthrough?
2A: More importantly, isn’t this a ridiculously elaborate setup to figuring out how a disease works? Who even thinks of something like that?
Writer Joe: “Say, Writer Susan. Pretend you’re a pathologist and the WORST DISEASE EVER has hit the world. Are you willing to do some seriously unethical things to save the human race?”
Writer Susan: “You mean, like kidnapping people no one would look for, injecting them with this terrible disease, pretend that you’re actually curing them, that kind of thing?”
Writer Joe: “Yeah, just like that! Except I was thinking you’d also wipe all your test subjects’ memories and lift them, one by one and only once a month, into this glade thing right next to this super cool giant maze that would kind of, like, collapse in on itself at night and would totally be teeming with these bitchin’ robot monster guys who would occasionally, but not too often, sting the subjects with said worst disease ever. You know, for science.”
Writer Susan: “Gosh, Writer Joe. I appreciate your enthusiasm and out-of-the-box approach to problem-solving, but doesn’t that seem like a ridiculously expensive waste of time? How many years do you think it would take to make the Maze alone? Where are we getting the billions and billions of dollars we’ll need? Couldn’t that money be better spent on, well, anything?”
Writer Joe: “Now that you mention it . . . no. Definitely not, Writer Susan. Also, only dudes will be allowed in this giant experiment. BROS BEFORE HOS! Er. For science, remember.”
2. Seriously, why are there only boys in this experiment? Does the disease only target men? Are the girls tested somewhere else? Is there a second giant maze in the middle of a desert somewhere with Gale nonsensically shouting that Thomasina deserves to be punished for saving Abby’s life? And if so, why did Teresa end up in this Maze? Did she intentionally follow Thomas of her own accord, or did WCKD throw her in the Glade to punish the boys with her scary vagina? (It seems to be Gally’s theory, anyway.)
3. Why is it important that Teresa, Alby, and Gally are all American? After all, Thomas Brodie-Sangster gets to keep his British accent, and even if The Maze Runner takes place in America — which I’m not yet convinced it needs to — like, immigration is totally a thing that happens. More importantly, unlike Poulter and Ameen, Scodelario just cannot shake her English. (Ameen slips up occasionally, but all in all, he’s not too bad. Poulter’s accent seems fairly solid, although, admittedly, it’s hard not to tune out whenever he talks, as his dialogue is all the same anyway: “Thomas sucks! Girls don’t belong here! Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?”)
After they watch the video, Wendy and the Lost Boys are about to leave when who should suddenly show up but Gally! Why? Who knows? Maybe Gally did a complete 180 and decided he wanted to escape after all? Maybe Gally was like, “I hate these assholes, so I’m going to go kill the hell out of them, but I should really wait until they have a good head start and I have to fend off all the giant monsters by myself?” Whatever, he’s there for one Last Unnecessary Dramatic Showdown, and he’s especially crazy now because he’s been Stung. He tries to shoot Curious Thomas. Minho kills him, but not before the young, doomed Chuck can sacrifice himself by jumping in front of the bullet.
This is kind of sad — one of the best moments in the whole film is when Chuck’s dangling over a ledge or something and angrily snaps, “No shit!” as Thomas unnecessarily reminds him to hold on — but it’s not nearly as sad as the movie wants it to be. Part of the problem is the not-so-subtle foreshadowing, but I could’ve moved past that. My real problem with Chuck dying is that his death feels entirely cheap. I just don’t buy that Gally goes after these guys, not right here in the last two minutes of the movie. The moment is so clearly trying to tug my heart strings that my heart strings downright refuse to budge, even though Dylan O’Brien does his best by breaking down into tears, and like, big, messy tears, not this sole glistening diamond sliding down his cheek or some bullshit. (Which I feel I should at least praise because, as much as I hate this development, I actually do like Thomas’s reaction. It feels rare, when you get honest-to-god sobs out of a male protagonist in Hollywood.)
Immediately after that, these soldier dudes bust in and hastily take the survivors away. We find out that evil Ava Paige is alive after all, and Stage 2 is on like Donkey Kong. And until September, that’s about it.
Like I said, I know this has been a pretty negative review, but it’s hardly the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s easy enough to watch. There are a few good moments here and there. The bunker with the dead scientists is genuinely creepy. But other than some weird logic issues that I’m not at all certain the sequels will fix for me, I’m just really disappointed by the lack of character depth in a movie that clearly wants to pretend its all about character. The movie as a whole feels a bit disingenuous, especially when it comes to Gally. And it’s disappointing, too, because I can so easily see how this could’ve been a much stronger film.
You know, I just can’t give this to anyone. I don’t blame the actors, but the material really doesn’t give anyone anything to work with. No one stands out at all.
You don’t have to be special to look special. Just surround yourself with really useless people, and you’ll seem amazing.
Also, if the acronym for your agency doesn’t spell out a thematically poignant and/or ironic word, you’re just not trying hard enough.