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8 October 2014

Don't Fear the Griever

While everyone eagerly awaits the release of the 3 1/2th part of the Hunger Games trilogy in three parts, Wes Ball has directed an adaptation of the first title in another dystopian, young-adult trilogy: The Maze Runner. What is it with dystopian, young-adult fiction and trilogies? Oh yes, the guaranteed money-spinning potential of a franchise. Regular readers will know that I love a good pun, but when the only endorsement of a film that movie makers can find to put on the poster is the lazy, "it's amaze-ing", it isn't a good sign. However, I had a free ticket to a preview screening and no other plans for a chilly Tuesday evening so along I went.

The film wasn't actually so bad. The premise is a sort of Hunger Games / Divergent / Lord of the Flies mash-up: every 30 days, a boy wakes up in a cage, which opens out into a leafy clearing surrounded on all sides by huge stone walls. By the time Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) arrives, this has been going on for three years so a fair number of young lads — led by Alby (Ami Ameen) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) — are in residence. On arriving, the boys have no memory of whom they are or why they are there. Within a few days, they usually remember their name ("it's the one thing they let us keep"), but Thomas gets there within a few hours so we know he is special (also, he's the only attractive one).

Newt gives Thomas a quick tour of the camp the boys have forged and points out the different sub-groups that have evolved — the builders, the craftsmen, the medics and the maze-runners. Oh yeah, Thomas, didn't we mention that behind those walls lies a huge maze whose walls rotate once a day and in which it is impossible to spend the night without being torn apart by some nightmarish creatures called grievers? Sorry, we were just getting to that part.

Within the group, there are those, like Alby and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) — one of the most experienced runners — who are desperate to escape the maze and return to the life that they once had but can't remember.Then there is Gally (Will Poulter), who makes up for what he lacks in charisma with the most impressive eyebrows you have ever seen. Gally doesn't like Thomas and what he represents — change, uncertainty and possibly danger — especially after Thomas runs into the maze one night just as the gates are shutting to try to rescue Alby and Minho, who are about to face a grievery death. Using a combination of bravery, stupidity and cunning, Thomas manages to trap a griever — a sort of giant, terrifying robotic arachnid — in the shifting maze walls, and in its mangled remains, he and Minho discover an electronic unit that bears the same letters as the food containers in the cage in which the boys arrived: WCKD. Not to be confused with WKD. Probably.

It's nothing particularly novel and none of the acting performances really stand out (the sarky little kid gets all the best lines), but the mystery of why the boys and the maze are there, combined with a few heart-pounding action sequences do make The Maze Runner an entertaining enough movie. Some very general spoilers follow, so please look away if you don't want to know anything about where the film — and its sequels — go.



What bugs me the most about The Maze Runner is that I can already tell what will happen in the second and third films because the first movie is set up exactly like the first movies in the Hunger Games and Divergent series. In movie 1, our plucky heroes/heroines must fight to survive in the artificial world/competition/situation in which they have been placed. At the very end, they discover that everything that they thought about the world was incorrect (in this case, this is partly because the kids' memories have been wiped, but still), and so in movie 2, it's all about finding out more about how the world really is before, in movie 3, the inevitable rebellion of the oppressed against the evil and/or misguided ruling classes.

I haven't read the Maze Runner books and I don't plan to, but I'm pretty sure that that is how it will pan out, which is a shame, because derivative as The Hunger Games was, it did spin a good narrative yarn, and I'm just not sure I can be bothered to rewatch the same basic plot with slightly different character stereotypes yet again. Hey, cinema tickets are expensive!

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