January 1, 2015

The Maze Runner (2014)


I don't know what it is about Hollywood and putting out multiple movies about the same thing at the same time, but it seems to be a recurring problem. So it's not really The Maze Runner's fault that it happened to come out after both The Hunger Games and Divergent--but it also doesn't make it easy to watch the movie without running constant comparisons.

Let me list all the ways the movie is reminiscent of recent YA movies:

1. The main guy looks kind of like an emaciated Taylor Lautner.

2. The girl is a slightly cuter version of Kristen Stewart. (Thankfully, those were the only two comparisons to the Twilight series I found.)

3. Alby, the black guy, looks like a younger version of Wayne Brady. (This has nothing to do with other YA movies--I just found it to be distracting.)

4. The whole "box coming up from the ground with food in it" evokes images of the cornucopia in The Hunger Games.

5. The ridiculous factions of people with their "role in society" is redundant of both The Hunger Games and Divergent, though at least The Maze Runner doesn't pretend like the people are sorted based on a one-dimensional assessment of their personality. And there's no Harry Potter sorting ceremony.

6. The maze itself (without giving too much away) and its changes are very reminiscent of the arena in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I mean, do we need to get the architects from Inception to come and design some more imaginative torture chambers for authors?

7. And though not a recent YA book/movie, the whole plot of course is very Lord of the Flies. While I appreciate the undercurrent of political thought of how a society should function, all these movies focus on dictatorships and less on problems the readers might actually face. I realize these books are fantasy/fiction, but wouldn't it be great if the recent popular teenage books actually taught them something about the world they're living in? Maybe that's just asking for too much.

Other distracting moments? Having almost an entire cast of males (in direct contrast to the leading females of both The Hunger Games and Divergent) and realizing the cute boy from Love Actually grew up to be really not cute. (Call it the curse of Elijah Wood.)

Also, not to draw direct comparisons to the "seasoned black guy vs. new white guy" thing, but I got a serious Shawshank Redemption vibe from it all. The prison-type atmosphere, the old time-y clothes, the all-male cast... I half expected Alby to tell Thomas to get busy living or get busy dying.

Don't misunderstand me--this was not a bad movie. Much like Oblivion was a decent movie, despite the familiarity of most of it, this movie managed to repeat much of what we've seen in recent years and still make it exciting. You really can't underestimate the power of good action sequences and this movie has lots.

There were actually some improvements in this movie over its counterparts:

1. Actual, meaningful diversity in its main characters. Instead of just having minorities as peripheral characters or extras (or not at all, Divergent), The Maze Runner features both a black guy and an Asian guy as main characters--with names and everything!

2. No romantic subplot. I'll admit, I like romance movies and watch an ungodly amount of horrible rom coms because I always root for people to find love, but it was surprisingly refreshing to watch a movie with absolutely zero sexual tension or romantic undertones.

3. Action that didn't make me want to laugh. Unlike The Hunger Games, we weren't expected to believe the hero was already somehow skilled at weaponry or something. And no one used the ridiculous fighting techniques shown in Divergent. Not to mention that with the diversity of characters, it wasn't difficult to distinguish who was who during rapid sequences.

4. Decent casting. Despite my complaints above about everyone looking like someone else, no one character stuck out as being miscast. Granted, I didn't read the book, so I don't have a deep-seated grudge against anyone (like Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark), but with the absence of really anyone famous, I wasn't distracted by an appearance by say, Lenny Kravitz, and wondering why he was there. Or whether someone like Kate Winslet should have participated in such a lame movie.

5. No lame tattoos. Ok, ok. I should stop picking on Divergent now or else this list could just keep going.

However, the ending was a massive letdown. The movie managed to keep the suspense of exactly who was behind the maze for the entire movie, then revealed it in an extremely short and unexciting way. And frankly, didn't even answer all the questions I had about the whole thing. Mostly it just felt like a set-up for the sequel. I mean, I know there's a sequel coming, but they could have at least has the decency to give a real ending to make it feel like a movie in its own right.

Final word: Decent enough to watch the sequel, which--in this recent movie climate--is saying something.

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