The Maze Runner opens with a great way to introduction to the world of The Glade and effective build-up of the surrounding maze. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up on an elevator rising to the Glade and then boom, the title appears. Even spending the first act talking about the maze is a good way to draw out the impact of when Thomas first dashes inside. Unfortunately, The Maze Runner just saves all its exposition for later , but it’s still exposition.
I suppose I only say it would be better if there was no exposition because I’ve never seen an explanation for extraordinary mysteries that’s any good. Perhaps the day I hear one, I’ll change my “less is more” attitude. Seriously, all respect to this beloved literary franchise, but the reason these kids are in the Glade is stupid. If they were in the Glade for no reason, it would be mysterious. For the reason that’s explained in the end, it’s a Syfy Channel movie.
I’ll usually give any movie a first act to do all the explaining it needs to. It would be better to show, don’t tell, but if you insist you have to explain this stuff to me I’ll go with you a little. Before the first maze run, the exposition is handled naturally. Other Gladers cut Thomas off because he’s asking questions everyone’s already thought of because they’ve been there longer. Still, hurry up and get in the maze already.
It’s about 35 minutes in when Thomas enters the maze and it’s a pretty clever sequence. Unfortunately, there are only three maze sequences in the movie. He keeps coming back to the Glade to explain things to the rest of the Gladers. Were there more maze runs in the book? Worse, the latter maze runs are largely green screen affairs. The maze blades don’t seem so deadly when O’Brien and co. are just running across a green screen weaving in and out of marks, dodging collapsing walls that were animated later.
The grievers are built up to be the scariest things in the maze, but of course they’re just CGI spiders with every leg flailing about. Even their heads are jittery because CGI artists can’t resist moving every facet of the model at once and showing it all full frontal on camera. I get that the grievers are an important part of the books and you want to bring them to life, but in cinema it’s more effective to show the aftermath of a Griever attack and keep the actual creature in the shadows. Just because you can animate a photoreal griever doesn’t mean you should film it in close up.
The maze is also a let down because there’s really no solving of the maze. Not once do they hit a dead end or get turned around. I know they had runners mapping the maze every day for three years, but where’s the fun in a maze if you can just run all the way through to your goal? And then your reward for solving the maze is just another exposition dump. Yay!
The Glader society in the book may represent debates about progress and status quo, but in the movie it’s reduced to simply “don’t rock the boat.” There’s Gally (Will Poulter)’s camp that wants to preserve the society they have, although I shouldn’t say camp because it doesn’t look like he has any supporters. It’s just Gally. Of course the protagonist who says, “Let’s fight our way out” appears to be the voice of progress. It needn’t take so long to get that point across, and if the society of the Glade was so important they should have spent time portraying that.
Fans of the book will surely enjoy seeing the Glade on screen and the practical portions of the maze brought to life. For that reason, I don’t expect any fans to wait until after its theatrical run to see The Maze Runner. I just wonder if, in adapting the book to screen, the screenwriters mistook its objective for its heart. All we get in the movie is a race to the other side, while the conflicts between characters feel more obligatory than inherently dramatic.