It’s curious to wonder why teen fiction has become so obsessed with life inside a dystopia. These claustrophobic realities, filled with surveillance and power structures must tap into something regarding growing up in this modern world, beyond a natural affinity with the fiction’s trapped, rebelling teens. Or has everyone just seen the popularity of The Hunger Games and endeavoured to copy that blueprint? What is certain is that The Maze Runner (based on the popular series of books by James Dashner) is disastrously plotted, poorly written and suffers from identical flaws as the novel, failing to find any meaning beyond following that superficial blueprint.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up inside a rusty lift, suffering memory loss and entering a compound of boys all trapped by a mysterious maze, with no one knowing why they are there. ‘Runners’ attempt to map the maze whilst giant mechanical spiders patrol. Thomas meets the other maze dwellers, including Gally (Will Poulter) whose personality is reduced to being a boneheaded twat, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who is the British one (why he’s allowed to be British but Poulter must put on an unconvincing American accent isn’t clear), Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is a ‘runner’ and Asian and Chuck (Blake Cooper) is the small and fat one who makes up for his lack of brawn with some cringeworthy, sentimental dialogue. Much like the book, the characters are written in broad strokes and they all mesh into nothing. The film doesn’t learn lessons from the source material and with a trio of inexperienced writers penning the screenplay it’s no surprise that no risks are taken as the studio takes charge. The dialogue is dreadful, nobody reacts naturally and some of the sentimentality is irksome. It’s truly a lousy screenplay.
Just like the book, nothing makes sense until some crude exposition at the end opens up more questions than answers. The world of The Maze Runner is ungrounded. Rules are never established and reasons for their preposterous situation are left vacant. Perhaps this gap gets filled in future instalments but as a piece this is totally unsatisfactory. It is depressing and meaningless, a garble of ideas trapped not by the maze but by a failure to see beyond the source material and create something coherent. Hunger Games 3, we need you more than ever.
The Maze Runner is out now in the UK and US. Running time 113 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).
Review by David Rank