The Maze Runner starts with promise. If the ongoing mantra behind screenwriting is to enter a scene as late as possible, then it’s off to a flyer, in fact. We see Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas dumped into the middle of a grassed glade, with no idea of what he’s doing there and where he is. He’s surrounded by a bunch of seemingly older teen boys in the same predicament. Oh, and there’s a great big stone construction around them.
The clue to what that is in the title: the stone construction’s a maze. More to the point, it’s a maze that can’t be escaped, that shuts its doors at night, and makes noises that test the bass of any half decent sound system. It would be fair to call the maze itself a CG achievement of some triumph.
Inevitably, the bunch of characters that Thomas finds himself in the middle of bear the usual hallmarks. There’s the difficult leader – played by the impressive Will Poulter – and the likeable nerd. One or two others tick the usual boxes. And there are the kind of divisions of labour within the group that Divergent explored earlier this year.
As the film pulls back on its intriguing premise, though, and tells you more and more about its world, it starts to go wrong. Director Wes Ball gets a lot of the human stuff right, and when he’s exploring the glade, the relationships within it, and the setup of the world, he’s on confident form.
But within the maze itself, the film never clicks in the same way. In fact, it makes two fundamental mistakes.
First, The Maze Runner is poorly lit. Crucially, it’s poorly lit to the point where you just can’t see what’s going on. Too many times in too many key sequences, the action is near impenetrable. We’re not at the low bar set by the execrable Aliens Vs Predator – Requiem in that regard, where much of the film was plunged into utter darkness, but there are still too many moments when you just want to throw the characters a torch.
Then, The Maze Runner makes the time-honoured CG error. Back in 1993, Steven Spielberg proved by having two kids running around a kitchen in Jurassic Park that it’s entirely possible to have CG creations sending the chills up you. Here, in 2014, The Maze Runner – without giving too much away – fundamentally fails that test. It boasts foes that – for all their design qualities – could have come in from a handful of other films, and at the point The Maze Runner should be raising the stakes, it’s stumbling. When it does let you see what’s going on, in the last third at least, it’s not always worth the bother.
Given that a sequel has already been announced, it’s no surprise that the finale is better at setting up what’s next than tying up what we’ve just seen. And in fairness, it slots some interesting developments into place, which suggest there’s a more interesting story to tell around the corner.
With this film, though, it develops a couple of interesting characters, sets up a world reasonably enough, but spends too much time spluttering to get you worked up about what happens next. The Maze Runner 2 isn’t an unappealing proposition, but the clearly-talented Ball and his team could really do with righting a few wrongs second time around.
The Maze Runner is out in UK cinemas on the 10th October.
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