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Maze Runner a pleasant surprise

By JOEY OSTER / VN Film Critic
On September 23, 2014

We’ve been beaten over the head for the last few years with post-apocalyptic movies based on young adult novels, in which only “The Chosen One” can save us from conformity and oppression.

That seems like a very specific genre to grow weary of, but here we are.

“Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

“Divergent.”

“The Giver.”

And now, “Maze Runner.”

And that’s only within the past 12 months.

Nonetheless, “Maze Runner” is a pleasant surprise.

It’s nowhere near the Hunger Games franchise, but it’s a serviceable, fun escape for a couple hours.

Our “Chosen One” is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who wakes up in a panic as an elevator ferociously hurls to seemingly the end of its line. Thomas braces for impact and is met with a bright light, but not the one he was expecting. He realizes he is beneath the ground as he looks up at a gang of teenage boys.

They’ve been expecting him.

Thomas is this month’s “greenie.”

Once a month, the box (elevator) arrives with a new boy and some marginal supplies for this little makeshift society, or the glade.

None of the boys remembers anything before the glade. They’re aware of life before, but they can’t recollect any of it.

Life at the glade is simple, minimal and structured. Everyone has his own role: socially, agriculturally and economically.

Everything would seem quite peachy, except this society is encapsulated by four walls containing a colossal maze.

But this isn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill giant labyrinth.

It rotates each day, closing itself down at night (trapping whoever is in the maze), and is patrolled by large half-machine, half-insect-like creatures, which are known as grievers.

Only a select few are allowed in the maze during the day.

These “runners” are logically only the fastest, strongest and most confident of the gladers.

Ironically, every guy in this movie has nearly the same build; they’re all athletic, tall and about the same age.

Only Chuck (Blake Cooper) breaks this mold. He’s chubby, younger and the only glader who’s not entirely serious. Of course, he and Thomas take a liking to each other and develop a bond.

This being a young-adult novel adaptation, Thomas has to rebel against this compliant, idyllic society. He’s hell-bent on solving this maze that the rest of the gang has been working on for over three years.

Once again, because of the genre, Thomas, in the most stubborn and radical way imaginable, spontaneously dives into the maze.

Dylan O’Brien kills it as Thomas.

Amazingly, O’Brien manages to show the confidence and fire within Thomas, without ever overacting.

His sense of urgency to break out is present in every scene, every line and every moment.

We, as the audience, truly see him as his own character, and not merely a clichéd “Katniss” reincarnate.

That being said, you become aware that you are witnessing this great leader come into his own, à la “Katniss” or “Caesar” from The Planet of the Apes films.

O’Brien’s performance makes the film feel like a seminal moment in the rise of Thomas and his seemingly imminent revolution.

“Maze Runner” is filled with delightfully intense scenes.

The moment leading up to Thomas’ initial impromptu entrance into the maze is phenomenally paced.

By the time he’d actually entered the maze, I was in goose bumps.

The chase scenes between the runners and grievers are similarly conducted at high standards.

Wes Ball has a good feel for building tension, until it boils over into an explosive action sequence. Even with all the movement between both characters and camera, the audience is never confused with the sequence of events.

However, a scene near the end of the film sways from this, and a fight scene momentarily enters Transformers-esque territory.

“Maze Runner” doesn’t offer any new twists on the genre, but it’s thrilling enough to make up for it.

The film is always interesting, and while you do find yourself wondering further about the plot, “Maze Runner” doesn’t provide the kind of thought-provoking social commentary for which these YA adaptations typically strive.

A minor annoyance is the inevitable cliffhanger the film ends on, setting itself up for sequels.

Every young adult sci-fi movie tries to set itself up to be the next Hunger Games, a mega-blockbuster that rakes in cash.

Yes, I know there are four “Maze Runner” novels, but it would’ve been refreshing to see a film, like this one, develop its entire story arc in a couple hours.

Actually, the fact that I’m so invested in the outcome of Thomas and his story testifies to just how engaging “Maze Runner” truly is.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

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