A franchise I wouldn’t mind seeing more of. So a young male (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up on an upward bound freight elevator with no memory. When he reaches the top, he finds a primitive society of other young males faced with the same affliction, stuck in the middle of a giant maze. The YA market is the one that everybody is trying to tap into; if you get a series off the ground, the return you can get on it is ridiculous. Because it is much easier to follow a pre-existing template than it is to start from scratch, you see 3 types of movies: ones appealing to the Harry Potter market, ones trying to be the next Twilight, and ones that are on the more violent side, trying to get that Hunger Games money. When you watch the trailer to this, I’m sure you had the same reaction as I did: you can’t help but think that this is to Hunger Games as Percy Jackson is to Harry Potter.
Well I am very pleased to tell you that while it is certainly vying for the same target demographic, it’s not a lazy knockoff. For one thing, when this starts off, there are no female characters, so there’s no chance of a love triangle or any romance angle to work. It’s really a boys club, which is a gutsy move, considering that you are running the risk of losing half of your market (of course, if you’ve seen a trailer for this, they give away a twist that comes at about the halfway point, so I suppose it’s not THAT bold). It’s also different in the way that it sets the story up; all of the aforementioned movies build up the universe that they take place in, slowly introducing it all to you, i.e. letting you experience the wonder of Hogwarts, showing you the dystopian districts, etc. With this, you are thrust into it as quickly as our main character; this speeding elevator is about to reach its destination, so you better figure it out. I appreciated the change of pace.
Also working for it is this mystery element; the why of it all really keeps you engaged and keeps you interested. Much like the first Hunger Games, most of the deaths are pretty impersonal, and shot a little too tightly so it can be kept PG-13. Apart from that critique, the action is pretty well shot overall and keeps the tension up; there are some sequences in the maze where I did find myself on the edge of my seat. None of the acting really stands out, but everybody serves their purpose. Dylan O’Brien is not an actor whose work I am familiar with, and he’s kind of a mix of Logan Lerman and Paul Walker, so it’s easy to see why they decided to make him the face of this series.
Although this is obviously setting itself up for a sequel, it does wrap up its story arc, so it leads to a mostly satisfying conclusion and doesn’t just cut off. Everybody’s a franchise nowadays, and quality wise, this falls somewhere between the Hunger Games and Divergent.
The Maze Runner (2014) ***1/2
– Critic for Hire