Release Date: 10 October 2014
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brian, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Blake Cooper, Aml Ameen, Jacob Latimore, Ki Hong Lee, Patricia Clarkson.
You wake up on a mysterious, industrial elevator. You have nothing but the clothes you’re wearing and a sack of miscellaneous provisions. As the lift climbs ever higher you realise you have no recollection of how you got there. It shudders to a halt and a hatch opens. You are momentarily blinded by sunlight. Your eyes adjust their focus and you take in your new surroundings; a grassy clearing surrounded by four impossibly tall, metal walls. Welcome to the The Glade; a small, male only community at the centre of a ominous, metal maze. Your new home. These are the first moments of The Maze Runner, the latest addition to the ever growing teen, sci-fi genre.
It’s a hell of a hook, and while the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to this attention-grabbing opener, there are enough positives to keep you interested. Following Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas as he searches for a way out of the maze (as well as for answers as to why he’s there in the first place), the intriguing premise is matched by a film that is impressively dark in tone- for the younger teen market at any rate. It also comes as a relief that the introduction of the first female to The Glade midway through the film does not unravel the whole plot for the sake of a queasy romance.
Proceedings are bolstered further with the help of an impressive support cast including Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s reluctant leader Newt, Will Poulter as the needlessly aggressive Gally, and an impressive turn from Blake Cooper as the youngest member of the group Chuck. A super-fan of the books, Cooper harassed director Wes Ball on Twitter, until he granted him to audition. The unconventional casting strategy pays off, as Blake brings an abundance of charisma and sympathy to the role, making Chuck the heart of the film. He is a real standout.
The performances are strong across the board, unfortunately it’s Ball who -in his debut feature- lets the side down with poor temporal and spacial framing. You’re never entirely sure whether Thomas has been in the maze for a week or a few months until someone conveniently blurts it out towards the end. And whilst aerial views of the maze make it look like an unconquerable labyrinth, once you get in there, even the furtherest reaches feel like a 15 minute, light jog away. It’s this lack of attention to detail that severely undercuts the tension. However while The Maze Runner can’t quite keep the pace set by the promising early scene, the emphasis on plot over romance and efforts of the stellar cast make this one of the stronger entries into the genre.