In most films of the SF-Action variety, there’s typically good action sequences and effects at the expense of good character development and convincing acting. “The Matrix” and “2012” come to mind. Or, the reverse: the film has good characters via solid acting, but the pace can’t keep up with a snail so the action sequences are comprised and the story doesn’t move along at a brisk enough pace. “Interstellar” and “Prometheus” are films which come to mind in this category. Few films achieve both ends, such as “Star Wars IV and V”, the original “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, and more recently “The Hunger Games”. Amazingly (no pun intended), “Maze Runner” has a terrific balance of character and action. In fact, the whole film would have failed miserably if there weren’t fine acting inside the skins of compelling and believable characters. And there has to be enough action for the audience to understand the dilemma of the characters. “Maze Runner” equalizes both quite nicely, seemingly effortlessly.
Thomas, who doesn’t know who he is because his memory has been wiped clean, is transported via a lift into a self-contained village within a small glade surrounded by huge walls on all sides. On one side, the walls have large doors which periodically open and close into a maze. The village-society is comprised of a few dozen males from age 12 to 27 but there are no “adults” over 30 and no females. They have structured their society such that different people engage in different tasks by day and then have ceremonial feasts and games by night. Supplies are also periodically provided through the same lift in which newcomers to the village arrive. However most of them have a sense they need to escape the glade through the maze, but not all the members have signed on to this idea.
A selected group of athletic villagers are “maze runners” who explore the maze and report back to the village with their findings before the doors close towards the end of the day. However, there are two challenges to the maze. First, while its doors are closed, the maze shifts every night, and second, there are “grievers”, horrid creatures which are a cross between ALIEN and former Vice President Dick Cheney, which stalk humans inside the maze. If the maze is the way out, they have to make their escape before being swallowed and/or stung by the grievers. The villagers also wonder who created the maze and why, and why are the grievers there? As the story progresses, some of the maze runner realize there are hidden clues about escaping the maze.
The political structure is led by Alby, an African-American who is the wise leader of the village, and the first to arrive in the glade three years before the events of the story. Gally is a kind of second-in-command determined to take the leadership after Alby is incapacitated in the wake of having been stung by a griever. Newt is the leader of the maze runners, and Minho is one of the best runners. When Thomas, a “greenie” (a.k.a. a newcomer), becomes enthralled with exploring the maze when he’s not officially a runner, Gally becomes enraged and desires the society punish Thomas and prohibit him from further running in the maze. What works well is not only the dilemma posed by the maze itself but also the power struggle between Thomas, who represents new hope in conquering the maze, and Gally, who represents the status-quo which may or may not wish to leave the village-glade. Then an unexpected “greenie” arrives to further shake up the delicate structure of the village.
Overall a very satisfying and interesting film. The character conflicts and action sequences are juggled well. At every moment, the viewer is pulled into the story without a shred of insight into what will transpire next. A few unexpected twists and turns occur which in retrospect make the story work on all levels. This is the goal of most action-SF films: to keep the viewer wanting to know what will happen next without being certain what will transpire while simultaneously caring about what happens to the characters involved. Weakness on either end can result in a mediocre experience, but luckily “Maze Runner” delivers on both fronts. Well done.
8 out of 10 stars