Navigating the maze of young adulthood

The Maze Runner. Rated M. Release date 18 September 2014. Director: Wes Ball. Running time: 113 mins.

Intentionally or not, often young adult novels – especially the ones that are turned into films – are based around a blunt metaphor for how teenagers see their lives. Lacking the freedom to do what they like, faced with rules and laws that seem arbitrary while struggling with deep changes on a physical level, teenagers’ personal problems have proven to be ripe material for dystopian fiction.

The problem is, when a young adult film is built around a mystery, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the mystery must be somehow linked to teenage alienation. In the case of The Maze Runner, the less you ponder why a bunch of teenagers would be dumped inside the middle of a giant maze, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of it.

Fortunately, this film starts off at a sprint that doesn’t leave too much time for asking questions, starting with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) waking up in a lift with no memory of where he’s coming from, where he’s going to, or anything else about his life before the start of the film. He’s the ideal movie character: his life begins as the movie starts and his position throughout the film is exactly the same as the viewers – we both just want to figure out what’s going on.

The lift delivers him and a bunch of supplies to a clearing bounded on all sides by huge walls. The boys who live there drag him out, settle him down (he’s understandably disturbed by all this), and explain to him what they know of what’s going on. They all live in this glade in an all-boy community (no girls are sent), each doing their part to survive - and for Maze Runners, that involves running out into the maze that surrounds the glade, trying to find a way through it before running back to beat the gates which close automatically at dusk. If anyone is locked inside the maze after dark, mysterious but deadly creatures known as “grievers” kill them: no-one’s ever survived a night inside the maze.

It doesn’t take much to guess where Thomas is going to end up, but there are enough weird elements to this story that even when the main thrust is obvious, and the central mystery easily solved, individual scenes remain interesting.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for most of the characters. As a more male-friendly young adult tale than most movie adaptations, the film prioritises plot over characterisation, resulting in a cast that are nothing more than clichés: the wise leader, the bad guy, the plucky sidekick and – once the lift eventually does deliver a girl – the love interest.It’s also more action-orientated than many YA films, with a decent dose of (PG but icky) gore mixed in.

Unfortunately once the emphasis shifts from gaining knowledge to putting that knowledge into action this starts to slow down, and the final act drags far more than it should. But the energy of those opening sequences is enough to get this across the line: for once the traditional open-ended 'to be continued?' conclusion is a cause for optimism rather than eye-rolling.

Anthony MorrisAnthony Morris is the current DVD editor of The Big Issue. He writes about film and television for various publications, including Geelong street paper Forte and Empire magazine, as well as The Vine and The Wheeler Centre website.



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