Logline: A teenage boy wakes up in a lift with no memory, and finds himself in a place called The Glade with a band of other boys like him with no idea why or how they got there. Surrounding them is The Maze, which may be their only way out but can also be a deadly trap if caught there after night fall…
Genre: Young Adult
Director: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Blake Cooper.
It’s a bit like Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games. And with a great concept, this film has enough intrigue to draw you in to the cinema, though it does have it’s flaws.
The Glade in which the young men have carved out their existence is almost an idyllic setting. It’s so interesting to see them building and maintaining their small world in it’s verdant setting while the hulking walls of the Maze enclose them. Keeping their routines and breaking off into groups with different skills, you’re neatly drawn into their lives and your curiosity piqued.
Of course, like Thomas, played by brilliantly Dylan O’Brien, you immediately want to question everything and enter the dark, vine covered maze. In it’s early third, it gives you just enough answers to keep you interested without giving away too much too soon, but once Thomas enters the Maze, it really takes off. There’s something that really works about the way in which the visuals are so primitive and so hyper modern at once. The Maze is clearly of superior technology and flashbacks give us hints of a science lab setting, but the vines that cover the walls and the way in which the guys have cobbled together a sort of Robin Hood existence is primitive. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition.
The sense of spectacle in this film is both restrained and rewarding. It’s a stunning film. Walls close in on you in the Maze, things lurk in there that horrify (oh I want to tell you, but go see it instead!), pathways change, things must be outrun or faced with rudimentary weapons… The camera glides, flies and races through imagery that leaves you breathless. But the careful plotting means that the development of character and relationships are given precedence over visual payoffs, which gives them so much more impact when they are played out.
Part of this impact comes from the really great performances of the lead actors. Dylan O’Brien in the main role of Thomas, gives a wonderful sense of someone trying to figure out the puzzle in front of him, without being a one dimensional hero. The leader of the pack, played by Aml Ameen and one of the Maze Runners who befriends Thomas, played by Ki Hong Lee, also give psychologically real performances and I would predict they have bright careers ahead of them.
So why isn’t this a better film?The main reason is some miscasting and one important character. The Token Female, or Theresa played by Kaya Scodelario, has no personality, turns up late in the game and gets hardly any lines. Perhaps in future films, and there’s already a sequel in motion, this lack of female presence will be explained in some clever way but why introduce a female character at all if you’re going to make her so pointlessly vacuous? Why not just have an all male cast? I wouldn’t mind. But the lackluster acting, and the lack of any sense of identity or feeling for her, and the blatant tokenism really pulls something out of this film and draws it away from being great. And speaking of cast, there are two bad mis-castings in this film: Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt and Will Poulter as Gally. Both are good actors, and are genuinely trying to get into the roles, but each time they were on screen, I felt that like I was just watching some boys pretending. Brodie-Sangster did not seem to me to have the charm and physical presence to be a second in command, and Will Poulter has the almost cartoon features of a 1950’s teenager. His acting felt more like posturing. I just couldn’t take him seriously.Which is a shame, because they’re not bad actors at all.
That said, this isn’t a bad film. It does seem to be cashing in on the wave of young adult movies on the slates of some of the studios for the next few years, but it’s very entertaining so that isn’t such a bad thing. It’s not going to change your life, maybe, but if you’re looking for something to watch, you’ll enjoy this.