Oh, people who I witnessed walking out of the screening of The Maze Runner well before the end of the film, how I envy you. You didn’t have to be there for work and you could leave at any time and thankfully you found the perfect moment to realize you could move on and live happy, healthy lives without sitting through one of the worst films I have ever had the immense displeasure of ever sitting through. You guys were the true heroes that night. Well, you and the numerous people on the way out who also wondered aloud why they didn’t just get up and leave on their own.
I considered walking out of The Maze Runner. It would have been only the second film I ever walked out of in a theatre in 18 years doing this job (the first being Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star), but had I walked out, I couldn’t have in good conscience written a full review about how much I fucking detest this film and everything it stands for. I couldn’t use this as the occasion to say that The Maze Runner perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong about studio filmmaking today. I wouldn’t have been able to say that this is the most insidious and morally reprehensible young adult novel adaptation I have ever seen. I wouldn’t be able to say that this is an even hoarier cash grab than any of the Transformers movies; a truly soulless film made for soulless human beings. I couldn’t say that if you are a parent and you willfully bring your child to see this bullshit that I will forever judge your life choices. I hate this film this much (and I hate using the word hate, but here it’s very appropriate) and I haven’t had my time wasted this much in years. And considering that 2014 has already come up with a bumper crop of films I would consider placing on my list of worst films I have ever seen in my life, this might be the worst accomplishment possible. It’s incompetent in every way, and that’s not even the worst of it.
It’s an idiot plot designed to keep idiotic people in idiotic situations. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up on a mysterious elevator ride to a mysterious place with no memory of his previous life. He’s transported to a place called The Glades, home to a bunch of self-sufficient teenage boys that once found themselves in the same situation. It’s a Lord of the Flies-esque community from which there is no escape except through a giant and mysterious maze that are home to some shoddily designed robotic-scorpion-spider things (called Grievers) and the outline of the maze supposedly changes every night, making it difficult to map. Thomas is joined shortly after his arrival by the only girl to surface in the woods (played by Kaya Scodelario), and both of them seem to have some sort of connection to what led to all these lost boys getting abandoned in the first place.
It took almost record time for me to realize I was going to despise everything else. This might be the most clichéd film to attempt to cash in on the race for studios to land the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Twilight. There isn’t a single line of dialogue in this script that isn’t expository or that doesn’t ascribe some sort of cutesy, marketable name to every person, monster, or plant within the universe. Immediately you wonder how much of these kids’ memories could have been wiped? They can’t remember their past, but they can somehow figure out how to build these elaborate structures and figure out how dictatorships are supposed to run. What is the history of this place? Well, that won’t be answered until the final reveal (one of the most insipid sequel set-ups I have ever seen), so any hope for logic or a semblance of pacing gets thrown out the window well before that. It’s a film expressly made with the hopes that people will get caught up in the nastiness it has to offer so much that they need to see the sequel for any hopes of an explanation.
Every character is stock and worthless, performed by actors who are largely too green and untested to deliver only the most perfunctory of line readings. O’Brien is a null set, almost dead to the world and only really showcasing two emotions: anger and anger with a side of confusion. Scodelario comes in late and adds nothing except the notion that the boys won’t know what to do with a girl after spending up to three years left to their own devices. It’s a notion that never gets explored since she comes with a note saying she’ll be the last person to ever be sent up to the mysterious land, and things have already gotten wildly out of control by that point anyway. Then there’s the generic leader type (Aml Ameen), the well meaning chubby kid (Blake Cooper), the bullying type who wishes he was in charge (Will Poulter), and the kid who probably should be the next one to lead them (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, in the film’s only truly great performance, putting on a real clinic in how to make something out of less than nothing). They’re all threadbare archetypes because actually giving any of these people any sort of depth would be too hard and distract from all of the “elaborate world building” that’s going on.
But the world that’s being built is stupid, sadistic, and arbitrary. There are only two lessons to be gleaned from this adaptation of James Dashner’s bestselling novel, and the first is tied to just how shoddy the construction of the world actually is. The biggest lesson here is to never question anything and to just react and adapt. When Thomas starts asking obvious questions about why they don’t just scale the walls of the maze and get a look from above, he’s cut down because “anything you can think of trying we tried three times already.” What about tunneling? I’m sure you didn’t try disassembling the elevator that brings people and supplies up every month, even though you guys can clearly build you own homes out of what you have. Why would you say “the ivy doesn’t reach the top” of the walls when the audience can clearly see that it does? You have pulleys for everything else so how is this so hard?
It’s stated that no one has ever survived a night in the maze alone, not even the titular “runners” who have been asked to map the place, so why did their belief in teamwork and sticking together not carry over into getting them through the maze? Especially, since, you know, that’s how they’ll need to get through there in the first place. How were these kids not able to figure any of this out in three years? It’s a film that starts to explain its own casual stupidity with made up buzzwords that could exist only in this world, only to backtrack and castigate the audience for even trying to make sense of it all.
Everything about The Maze Runner smacks of carefully orchestrated obscurity and vagueness designed to pull one over on the dumbest of viewers, but even those who don’t expect much from their movies deserve better than what’s essentially the kiddie equivalent of torture porn. Rather than struggling the ethics, emotions, or even the dynamics of the situation, we’re instead treated to brutally deluded violence from people who must think that Lord of the Flies only exists for the brutal death of Piggy. The sequences involving the creatures within the maze are more than intense enough for a film aimed at teens and tweens, but what’s even more depressing are the human interactions.
There’s no humanity on display in any frame of first time feature filmmaker Wes Ball’s work here, which would be admirable if it wasn’t so braindead in every other respect. As the film progresses and the kids decide to try and escape the maze world once and for all, it becomes almost hellishly violent to a point where I hope and pray the American MPAA sleeps well knowing that they still punish people for salty language, but allow films like this to get pushed through with PG-13 ratings unscathed. The Purge wasn’t this violent and depraved, and as much as that movie sucks and is reprehensible on a thematic level, at least that bothered to come up with some sort of cultural subtext. Here, nothing is put into place that won’t be used in a sequel. It’s two ungodly hours of depressing set up designed to make people feel awful instead of keep them entertained. The second message of the film by the end is that bullying is the greatest thing ever, and that we’re nothing without the psychological torture that we have to endure to suffer through our soulless lives. You know? FOR KIDS!
But what of the actual technical acumen that went into this film? That’s equally incompetent. Scenes in the film seem like they might have been actually arranged out of order, like no one saw the final cut. The action sequences with the unconvincing monsters are darkly lit blurs that make one pine for the relative splendour of a Michael Bay production. Even within fight scenes, shots will alternate with little rhyme or reason. Someone will be on top of a monster fighting it, then another random angle shows them below it, then another has them back on it. It can’t even get a simple fight scene right, and that kind of wrongheadedness carries through the entire film to a conclusion so laughably stupefying and thematically depressing that I wish I could do what the chief villain does: puts a gun to her head and blows her brains out on camera to a room full of horrified youngsters.
Of course she’s not dead because we need a sequel to explain why she isn’t dead and why these kids need to suffer more. Unlike most reviews I write where I eschew spoilers for people who want to see the film regardless of what I thought of it, I am throwing that out the window for this one because I don’t want you to see this film. (Plus, it’s based on a book which although I haven’t read it, if this is a faithful adaptation, it makes it just as shitty.) I am through playing nice because I have nothing nice to say about this filth.
Teens went to violent movies in the 80s and 90s as an escape from how shitty their lives were. It sucks being a teenager, and regardless of whatever moral ground you could take on those films rightly or wrongly, they were even at their worst an escape of some sort. I love violent movies, and this isn’t even coming from a nostalgic perspective. I think we just need to start talking about how we use violence in movies. You’ll see more about this next week when I talk about The Equalizer (which, spoiler, also sucks in a lot of the same ways), but for now just ask yourself what kind of violence you like in a film and if The Maze Runner is right for you. If you answer that you like violence that has no meaning and you just like to watch good guys and bad guys go at it or that you like violence that has deep meaning and implications, you will equally hate this film. If you answer that you are so desensitized to violence that you can’t see it as fun or as a way to move the story along, you need to see if you actually have a pulse before going to watch this because you might already be dead.
The Maze Runner serves to only reinforce through shoddily crafted, done to death, fantasy that life has sucked, will always suck, and it will never get better. If there is a sequel, not only do I refuse to review it, but I refuse to even assign it to someone. This kind of cynically crafted product is the only case I need to point to in the “what’s wrong with movies today” argument. If I could snatch up every DCP and film print of this garbage and bury them in a landfill, I would do it in a heartbeat.