views from the gods

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The Maze Runner (12A)
The Mayfair Hotel
28th September 2014

★★☆☆☆

After Twilight paved the way for mediocre teen lit to become massive global movie franchises (yeah, thanks for that), Divergent brought in the concept of running really fast for no fathomable reason. The Maze Runner continues a trend; a film based on the first book in James Dashner's post-apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy. Dashner has penned one prequel and is planning another - it seems young folk these days can't get enough of things going wrong, brooding, moping and well, running really fast.

There's a carefully constructed plot which culminates in the entire film being thoroughly pointless, setting us up nicely for anything goes in the second. Our advice is to take the film for what it is: switch off brain, watch the action, and hope you never make it to the adaptation of third book, which doesn't quite have an "and it was all a dream" ending, but is similarly unsatisfying.

Our initially nameless protagonist (Dylan O'Brien) finds himself brought to a leafy green environment surrounded by bloody giant walls, housing an ever-changing maze. Soon he recalls his name is Thomas, but that's all. He's not the only one in this odd environment, there's a whole bunch of other lads of varying ages and usefulness, with the abundant testosterone levels making this whole affair part Lord of the Flies, part Twi-gent. After chatting to the others, Thomas decides the only way out is to go into the maze as - wait for this - a "Runner". I bet it took Dashner ages to come up with the title.

Apparently no one has ever escaped, but that doesn't stop Thomas from giving it a jolly good go, in a move which alienates half the camp and gains the respect of the other half. No one knows why they're all trapped together in "the Glade", with some, notably Gally (Will Poulter), having accepted the co-operative life (damn hippies). Some do yearn to get out, even though they don't remember the alternative. Any memory of friends and family has been erased, but optimistically, they expect they were all very much loved and that there are definitely people on the other side waiting for them. (Umm... sure.)

The first to have ever been left in the Glade to fend for himself is the charismatic Alby (Aml Ameen), who is keen to protect the entire group at any cost, even if that means bumping one off. (Like I said, it's a bit Lord of the Flies.) Head runner-dude Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is a bridge between Alby's group approach and Thomas's "save-'em-all-even-the-annoying-ones" mentality. You get the impression that despite his seriously impressive level of fitness and well-researched knowledge, Minho just wants a quiet life. His existence in the Glade is somewhat of a cruel blow of fate.

When Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives, she's so angry and scared she basically hides up a tree. Despite being the only girl, the community largely ignore her once she stops throwing rocks at them. With so much violence in the rest of what is meant to be a 12A, we're as surprised as Teresa that none of the boys try to jump her, but this is a pure action flick, there's no romantic subplot and the only physical action is running. Really fast.

This is Wes Ball's first full-length film, and at nearly two hours, the new director makes the most of it. The setting feels distinctly fake, which is not in itself a problem, but the dementors of the film, robotic-organic "Grievers", aren't realistic enough looking to be that scary. The initial scenes showing Thomas's arrival are suitably claustrophobic, but the flashbacks don't have enough power to them. There's definitely ambition and enthusiasm, but these qualities haven't fully translated into a film worth seeing.

The Maze Runner is formulaic, it doesn't push any boundaries in terms of technique or plot, but you can hardly blame the film-makers for wanting to bring Dashner's story to the big screen. At this level of scale, it's all about the money, it's all about the na na na na na na. The Maze Runner will not win any meaningful artistic awards, but it does have the potential for commercial success, and if this does well, it won't be the worst springboard for Ball. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

This won't get a rave review from us - nor from anyone else who truly likes good films. However, the truth is, The Maze Runner will draw in the tweenagers and ex-twihards, no matter the critical reception.

The Maze Runner is released in the UK on 10th October 2014.

Nearest tube station: Green Park (Victoria, Piccadilly)



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