Perhaps it says a lot about the current political and social climate of the world when all you need to do is look at teen movies to see how things have shifted in the last dozen years. Whilst at one time you’d have stories about navigating the dramas of high school, like Mean Girls, or stories about teens desperate to lose their virginity, such as American Pie or Kevin and Perry Go Large, today it’s about horrific futures and desperate fights for survival.
Whilst this arguably provides much more interesting stories, it can lead to a market place filled with a lot of very similar films; The Hunger Games, The Divergent Series, and The Maze Runner were all released in quick succession of one another. Because of the huge popularity of The Hunger Games and the push of this kind of fiction, I ended up missing The Maze Runner when it was first released, and didn’t actually get around to watching it until the second film was out, doing the two of them back-to-back.
Where The Hunger Games and Divergent presented worlds that were ruled by totalitarian governments, with people forced into lives that they didn’t want or were just downright exploitative, The Maze Runner actually managed to subvert expectations by focusing small.
Over the course of the rest of The Maze Runner series we find out more about the world, the evil government/company behind everything, and the apocalypse that befell the Earth, the first film doesn’t really give us any of this. Instead, it focuses on a small cast of characters who begin knowing as much as the audience does, dumped into the centre of a gigantic shifting maze without memory of who they are.
It’s a bold choice. It doesn’t provide any answers about what is really happening until the final few minutes of the film (and we find out later that most of these revelations shouldn’t be trusted), but it really works.
This is a film set in a post apocalypse future, but that doesn’t matter here. The Maze Runner is a mystery before anything else. Who are these people? Why are they in the maze? Who built the maze How do they escape? What are the mysterious creatures that dwell within? These are the important questions.
Thankfully, the film is good at letting these mysteries play out slowly, letting you get used to one part of the world before introducing more intrigue, or providing answers, such as the slow introduction to the Grievers, the monsters living within the walls of the maze.
The cast, though young, are able to carry the film incredibly well, managing to keep it engaging and entertaining even when nothing is happening. Dylan O’Brien is good in the role of Thomas and is believable in his arc, going from scared and confused outsider to a brave and competent leader. It doesn’t feel forced or unbelievable like this kind of role can do, and he doesn’t have the arrogance or unlikable qualities that surround characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games.
The best characters, however, are probably Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s Newt and Ki Hong Lee’s Minho. Two characters that begin the film in positions of power over Thomas, become mentors to him, friends and equals, and eventually look to him as their leader. Their arcs in this first film are complex ones, as their relationships with Thomas change drastically, yet they manage to feel very natural and believable. Most importantly, though, is that both of these characters are incredibly likable throughout, so it comes as no surprise that they go on to survive the Maze and will become important characters in the rest of the series.
The weakest link is Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, the only female member of the young cast. Unlike the male cast members she never quite feels comfortable in her role. Perhaps this is an intentional choice on the part of the filmmakers for developments that will happen to her character in the sequel, but here it feels slightly out-of-place.
Overall, The Maze Runner is very enjoyable and that manages to stand out against the other teen apocalypse movies from the same time. Overlooked because it lacked the star cast of The Hunger Games, it delivers a much more engaging and entertaining film than its more well-known counterpart. If you missed this upon first release, you definitely need to do yourself a favour and go back catch up before the release of Maze Runner: The Death Cure.