I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t care for the Young Adult genre. Its shining stars are, well, kind of trite. But the purpose of YA is to explore the arena of late adolescence. And the coming-of-age story is really as old as the concept of the story itself. So why am I reviewing The Maze Runner? Literally, the only reason I even know about this series is because Ken Barthelmey did some concept art for the film, namely creature design for the Grievers.
Ken is one of my favorite creature artists, so I decided to check the film out. I haven’t read the book beyond the first paragraph, so I can’t compare the two yet. It’s next on my reading list after I finish the Divergent trilogy. Okay, now to get into the meat of this.
Soon he learns that once a month, the elevator, which the Gladers call the Box, brings two things to the Glade: food and supplies, and another Greenie. And all Greenies soon learn the three rules of the Glade–1) Do your part; 2) Don’t hurt a fellow Glader; 3) Don’t go outside the Glade unless you’re a Runner. Naturally, our protagonist is curious what is on the outside, but Alby, their leader, tells him not to worry about it. Later on, Chuck, who was the previous Greenbean, lets it slip that the Glade is surrounded by a colossal Maze. The Maze has one door, which closes every night. If you’re stuck outside the Glade when the doors close, you have to contend with the Grievers, hideous, sluglike creatures that eat Gladers for breakfast. And that, boys and girls, is why you don’t leave the Glade unless you’re a Runner.
That night, the Gladers throw a huge party in our protagonst’s honor, during which Newt, who acts as vice mayor, explains life in the glade. He reveals that the Maze changes every night, but the Runners explore it every day, mapping and memorizing it, trying to find their way out. They’ve been at it collectively for three years. As newt explains the occupational system, our protagonist reveals that he wants to be a Runner, and Newt calls him crazy, but says that people don’t choose to be Runners; rather, they are chosen by the leadership.
During the celebration, our protagonist remembers his name–Thomas–while wrestling with Gally, a boy whose eyebrows must have been surgically sculpted into a frown. With this, officially becomes a part of the group. But things begin to change, and it doesn’t take long at all. First, one of the Runners, Ben, gets “stung” by a Griever in broad daylight, and he attacks Thomas in the forest, saying, “You did this! It’s all your fault!” Out of necessity, the Gladers banish him to the Maze, and the next morning, Alby takes his place. The same thing happens to Alby, and Minho–the Keeper of the Runners–knocks him out and carries him back to the Glade, but by the time he is within sight, the doors are already closing, and neither one will make it. So Thomas decides to do something drastic, and he bolts through and makes it into the maze with Minho and Alby just as the doors close.
This is where we first see the Grievers. More on this later. After securing Alby for the night, Thomas finds himself in the sights of a Griever, and it chases him through the Maze. As he escapes, Thomas lures it into a rapidly closing section of the maze, barely making it out alive. The same can’t be said for the Griever, who didn’t stand a chance against the wall. The next morning, Thomas and Minho bring Alby back to the Glade, and the elevator arrives once again. But it isn’t carrying supplies; the only thing inside is a young woman, Teresa, who is carrying a piece of paper that says, “She’s the last one. EVER.” She wakes up, and recognizes Thomas by name.
Thomas, Minho and some other Gladers decide to go investigate the dead Griever. They manage to pull some sort of device from its remains, which turns out to be an access key used by the Grievers to enter and exit the Maze. When they get back, Teresa is at the top of the lookout tower chucking rocks down at the boys, wanting to be left alone. But she does allow Thomas to come up, and she gives him a pair of syringes that turn out to be the antidote for the serum that the Grievers inject into their victims. They give one to Alby, and Newt makes Thomas an official Runner.
The next day, he and Minho go and check out the section of the Maze that the dead Griever had come from. They find the Griever hole, and when they approach, an IFF device scans them, and since they obviously aren’t giant slugs with mechanical spider legs, it sounds the alarm, sealing that section of the maze. In the meantime, Alby wakes up with his memory partially restored. He says the same thing Ben did earlier, that Thomas was involved in whoever was sending people up.
That night, all four of the Maze’s egresses open, and Grievers flood into the Glade. Newt, Chuck, Teresa, Thomas, and some others huddle inside the town hall, and one of the Grievers breaks through the roof and grabs Chuck with the claw at the end of its scorpionlike tail. Alby intervenes, whacking the tail with a machete until the Griever releases chuck. Another Griever then grabs Alby and carries him off.
In the scuffle, the syringe full of Griever serum got knocked off the stinger, and Teresa grabbed it before they all went out to survey the carnage. Gally, who has been blaming Thomas for everything that goes wrong, walks up and decks him, laying the blame on him again. Thomas concludes that he must be right, and he takes the serum from Teresa, injecting himself so that he can regain some of his memories. And this serves to confirm what his dreams have been telling him: the whole time everybody was in the maze, he and Teresa were working behind the scenes with WICKED, whoever they are.
When he comes to, Newt tells him that Gally has seized control, and they’ve gone along with him, lest they be banished with Thomas that night. But after a bit of convincing, they side with Thomas again and go with him back to the Griever hole, all the while running from the creatures. Instead of scanning them, this time, a screen flashes to life asking for an eight-digit code, which Thomas guesses is the order that the various outer sections of the Maze open. Minho, who knows the Maze better than anybody, gives Teresa and Chuck the code, and they put it in. The screen turns green, and what’s left of the group falls through a trapdoor into some sort of facility.
They walk around and find tons of dead bodies and a video recording wherein Ava Paige, the chancellor of WICKED, explains everything: war, apocalypse, zombies, ethically dubious tests and experiments on those who were immune to the zombie virus…you know, the usual. Throughout the video, the personnel can be seen working frantically in the background, and at the end of the video, soldiers infiltrate the facility, guns blazing, killing all in sight. At the end of the video, Paige commits suicide, her last words being, “WICKED is good,” the mantra the subjects were taught over the course of the tests. Immediately after the end of the video, a set of doors to the exterior opens, and the group prepares to head out. But Gally, who stayed behind, decided to brave the Maze, got stung by a Griever, and made it all the way to the facility. He’s got a gun, and he’s determined to make Thomas pay for what he’s done. He raises the pistol and fires just as Minho puts a spear through his heart. Thomas escapes unscathed, but only because Chuck jumped in front of the bullet. As he succumbs, the exterior door opens and several soldiers come in to take the boys and Teresa to safety.
As they pile into the chopper, we see Ava Paige wiping the fake blood from her temple and addressing a committee of some kind. The Maze trial is over, she explains, and the subjects are showing promise, most notably Thomas. Now begins Phase 2. Roll credits.
Thomas, our protagonist, awakes sans memory in an elevator bound for God only knows where. When he reaches the top, he finds himself among a couple dozen other boys in the Glade, a large, verdant square surrounded by a colossal maze. Only the Runners are allowed to leave the Glade, since the Maze is a dangerous place. Thomas’s arrival signals a change in the status quo, and bad things start to happen: Grievers–the monsters inhabiting the Maze after dark–begin to attack in broad daylight; a girl, Teresa, arrives and upsets the fruit basket; Thomas doesn’t follow any of the rules…you know the drill. Eventually, Thomas becomes a Runner, and he and Minho, the other Runner, find what they think is a way out.
I’ve already mentioned how trite I think the YA genre is. And after watching this movie, I said, “More like ‘The Meh Runner’.” The trailers promise action, thrills, and an immersive, dystopian world. What we get instead is a beautiful world with underdeveloped characters, predictable action sequences, and too many unanswered questions.
The movie’s high point is in the visuals. The Glade captures the feeling of a small, primitive society well, from the foliage to the shelters to the costumes. The Maze itself is reminiscent of ancient ruins, covered in ivy, colossal, mysterious, and dangerous. And I’m very happy that they used Ken Barthelmey’s concept design as the final design for the Grievers without changing much at all. They’re supposed to be terrifying, and they certainly had the potential to be. But they aren’t. Their first scene doesn’t provide much suspense, and of their subsequent scenes, the attack on the Glade is perhaps the best. The only problem is that for most of that scene, the Grievers spend a their time off-camera. When they are prominent on camera, the action suffers from Shaky Cam Disease and Jump Cut Syndrome.
Now for the characters. Some of them are good, like Chuck, Alby, and Thomas. But others leave a lot to be desired, especially Teresa. As it stands right now, she’s little more than a plot device. Granted, this is a trilogy, so she will probably have more of a role in future installments. But all she does is provide a means of escape from the Grievers’ serum, and she has only two vials of antidote, at that. Gally is another one that just feels…off. I don’t know what it is, whether it be his Vulcan eyebrows, his crew cut, or his rapid spiral into vengeful insanity.
I don’t have much to say about the ending. It’s more open than that of The Hunger Games or Divergent, leading right into the next movie, Scorch Trials, which is due out in September. The twisty thing at the end wasn’t something I saw coming, but it wasn’t mind-bending, either.
All in all, the movie wasn’t awesome. But it was good enough to keep me onboard for at least the second one. Not bad for something that I would never have known about if not for my following Ken Barthelmey on deviantART. I give it almost four stars.