The Maze Runner books upon which this franchise is based weren’t a particularly well-written series to start with, but it was visual and full of possibilities. The books are rushed, focused on a pre-adolescent male mindset in the bodies of post-adolescent boys, and (much like Divergent) over-plotted. And, yes, it still sold millions of copies, which is why it got this chance on screen.
The movie adaptation, directed by first-timer Ball and written by a collection of fairly untried scribes, compressed the already thin material into something even a bit flatter than the original while admittedly solving some of the problem aspects of the world the characters had to traverse in the process. To be fair, as a first feature, after years learning from the graphics side of the industry, Ball delivered a pretty solid result. That doesn’t meant the result is as rich as I’d like, nor does it make it a good movie for anyone over 15, or, especially, anyone female looking for role models.
The main issue is that the targeted audience for both book and movie is primarily tween boys that are just a bit older than the Percy Jackson-set but somehow even a bit more pre-adolescent. With the rise of franchises like The Hunger Games and Divergent, I’d have thought they’d try to hit both the female and male sectors for audience and recognize that kids have a slightly richer experience of the world than we’d like to admit. It didn’t need to be a modern Lord of the Flies, but I would have settled for something closer to the joyous carnage of Battle Royale, or philosophically deeper I Declare War.
Everything for the main character, played well by O’Brien (Teen Wolf), was far too easy. His journey takes him days instead of weeks or months. The writers even took the one female character, Scodelario (Now is Good, Skins), and made her even less relevant than the books did. Despite some good supporting roles by Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones), Poulter (We’re the Millers), and Lee (Nine Lives of Chloe King), the overall effect is one of a rushed story that just wants to get to the next big moment or visual effect and leaves all the emotion, mystery of the place, and thinking behind. There are tons of cuts just as a moment may take place as if the director were fearful of expressing anything emotional (an outstretched hand about to be grasped, but we don’t get to see that moment, for example). Sometimes that can be OK, but it made the world a lot less interesting than it could have been. The book at least tried to create a fully functioning society in the midst of all the weirdness.
On the plus side, the visual effects are stunning and well conceived. They captured the book well and rethought some of the original aspects to make them more believable. The creative minds get another run at the prize in this year’s upcoming sequel (Scorch Trials). I’m hoping that they don’t allow the 100M gross from their previous efforts make them believe they actually succeeded in this first attempt. Without some improvement in script quality, I don’t see the franchise surviving as the audience will continue to narrow and interest wane.