By Reilly Webster, Online Media Editor
Though The Maze Runner is similar to other movie franchises that have been released in 2014, the film boasts several key aspects that set it apart from other teen dystopian movies. A cinematically adapted young adult novel, The Maze Runner is at first glance typecasted as another unoriginal installment into the ever popular genre of film that includes other motion pictures such as Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Giver. However, director Wes Ball provides plot angles that break through the archetypical framework of dystopian teen-in-distress stories.
The movie begins with actor Dylan O’Brien’s character, Thomas, being violently and swiftly propelled upward in an industrial-looking metal elevator. With no memory of who he is or where he has come from, only remembering his first name, the teenage boy is struck with confusion and fear as he is suddenly exposed to rays of natural light and the silhouettes of young men standing above him.
Thomas is told he’s in the Glade – an isolated and rural compound in which an eclectic group of teenage boys have created a functional community. Surrounded by a shifting Labyrinth known as The Maze, this settlement is a residence for the boys, but it’s no safe haven. With systematically crunching walls and deadly monsters known as grievers roaming the shadowy corridors of the structure, stating that fear plays a great role in the boys’ lives would be an incredible understatement. Driven by the will to escape the hellish conditions of the maze and the powerful desire to break free from their entrapment, certain Gladers were selected to decode the cryptic messages of the maze. Called runners, these brave young men would each day sprint through the passageways of the maze in attempt to find an escape. Thomas’ instinctive curiosity draws him to this position, and with that, the story is born.
Ball’s movie is undeniably a spectacle to behold. With its fair share of CGI components, the movie is both visually appealing and terrifyingly believable. Animation elements are seamless in both the towering maze and the terrorizing grievers. More importantly, the created environment is directly in touch with the novel’s descriptions; each scene is tied back to the book by James Dashner that captured so many readers back in 2009. Expectedly, some aspects and scenes of the original book are left out and/or substituted in the film, but because the setting of the picture is so analogous to the imagery in the book, the main feeling of the story and environment that the novel chronicled is never lost throughout the course of the movie.
Another strength of the film was the connectability that the characters offered the audience. The Maze Runner’s cast is compelling, and features several actors that have yet to see the peak in their theatrical careers, such as Blake Cooper, who plays a delightful and sweet comic relief character named Chuck, and Kaya Scodelario, who plays Teresa, an unexpected female addition to the community of boys. If the action-packed, hair-raising, and compelling plot isn’t enough to grip audience members, then the acting ability in the film certainly is. Major roles like Thomas, Newt, and Gally are brought to life by actors Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Sangster and Will Poulter. If it weren’t for these powerful and talented actors, the story would not be grounded.
Though there is an undoubted connection between the characters and the audience, Ball creates a significant hole in the story by neglecting to highlight the prominent relationship between Thomas and Teresa that existed in the novel. In the book, Teresa is a vital piece of the storyline and is accountable for most of Thomas’ breakthroughs. In the film, she serves solely as a part of the plot. She is no longer the mentor and unconditional supporter of Thomas that she was in the original story, and this wrecks the romantic aspect of the storyline by eliminating any chance of real passionate intimacy and endearment between the two. Though the eradication of the love angle is somewhat refreshing and sets the Maze Runner apart from other adapted young adult movies that often include cliche love triangles and romances, the lustful and emotional relationship that the two Gladers share is unfortunately a piece of the puzzle that should not have been left out.
This exclusion leads into the major and blatant weakness of the Maze Runner film release, which is its lack of attention to detail. Even in the earliest scenes of the movie, it becomes obviously evident that the producers and director intend on expanding the franchise into further films. Key moments of the book are sacrificed in the film in order to explain the long term plot of the trilogy, and this is in some cases detrimental to the entertainment value of the first film.
The promise of further installments in the Maze Runner movie saga also presents a problem that is yet to be seen in the development of other young adult dystopian films. Subsequent to author James Dashner’s release of the Maze Runner in 2009, a second and third book, the Scorch Trials and the Death Cure, were published to complete the trilogy in 2010 and 2011. These two succeeding installments follow Thomas and the other main characters through a world that has been ravaged by famine, burnt and scarred by freak natural disasters, and most importantly infested by a brain-mangling disease known as the Flare. On a quest to decode the human brain to find a cure for the infectious plague, characters are faced with destruction, betrayal, and an overwhelming amount of death. Simply put, these books are brutal, and translating their events onto the big screen could result in traumatized audiences and wet seats at the movie theater.
However, until the Scorch Trials is released in what is rumored to be late 2015, the overall effect that this potentially three-parted movie franchise will have on young adult dystopian moviegoers cannot be foreseen. The Maze Runner, while intense, is the tamest of the trilogy, but still manages to provide a unique and action-packed plot that ultimately satisfies and thoroughly entertains audiences.