It appears as if adaptations of dystopian young adult novels are set to be churned out at an increasingly steady rate. With the hugely popular Hunger Games set to embark upon the first half of its final chapter later this year, and Divergent’s first instalment released earlier this year, studios are catering towards an insatiable, and growing, audience, keen to see conflicted, confused teenagers rebel against the oppressive powers that be.
Following in these footsteps is The Maze Runner, directed by Wes Ball. With a screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, based on novel of same name by James Dashner, it tells the story of a group of boys who find themselves trapped in a scenic enclosure surrounded by a labyrinthine maze. The premise is intriguing, and the claustrophobic set design and action sequences impressive, but its overall execution feels formulaic and by the end, dissatisfying in its unconvincing logic.
The film opens with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) waking up in an ascending elevator. When it opens, he finds himself surrounded by a large group of strange boys jeering down at him. He has no concrete memories, even of his name initially. He learns from Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) that they all experienced this, and are living communally in a forest clearing that is completely surrounded by tall walls. These open to an entrance to an ever-changing maze, and designated ‘maze runners’ are tasked with finding an exit. Rules about who can enter the maze immediately clash with Thomas’ natural curiosity, and he soon makes an adversary in Gally (Will Poulter). His willingness to take risks, along with some timely memory flashbacks, lead to important headway as why they are there and how to escape, and with Teresa’s (Kaya Scodelario) arrival, the path is inexorably set towards a resolution (of sorts).
Inevitably, translating novels into films is a difficult task, requiring in-depth character development to unfold in a shorter time frame. And whilst the premise is initially interesting, it makes it difficult to relate and become attached to these characters, despite the solid efforts of the actors and in particular O’Brien. As the film unfolds their character traits seem to be drawn from ‘stocks’ of generic qualities, and any nuances that may have been fleshed out in the source material are glossed over to service the broader thematic tensions between valuing safety and seeking freedom, between group cohesion and asserting individuality. It does not help that the dialogue is often cumbersome and clichéd. Additionally, these tensions do not have much of anything insightful to say about the dynamics of a self-governing group of youth. When some sort of explanation is provided, it is glossed over with some gaping holes in its logic. As the credits roll around, only a lingering feeling of dissatisfaction is left behind, one that does not look likely to be appeased by the film’s open ending and inevitable sequel.
The Maze Runner is in Australian cinemas from 18 September through 20th Century Fox.