From the Archives: Running the Maze Runner series

From the Archives: Running the Maze Runner series

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

I’ve never had a contentious relationship with YA material the way many would expect me to. Yeah, sure, back in the day I fashionably talked some smack on Twilight, but really, it’s an empty hatred based on nothing. In fact, after all this time, I’d actually like to take time to give them a fair shake. I will save that for another piece. But no, I’ve got nothing against entertainment made for teens. I used to be one of those mid-pubescent jerks myself. Plus, from what I’ve seen of the genre, YA properties tend to be pretty good little movies. The Hunger Games flicks were legit, as were their source novels. What is Harry Potter if not the ultimate high-quality YA project? And I LOVE Harry Potter. So when I started seeing trailers for Maze Runner: The Death Cure, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. It looks pretty wild.

My initial intention was to watch the movies in reverse, as some sort of comical riff on the concept of mazes, but that was when I was under the completely believable assumption that there were more than two entries in the series. I figured that The Death Cure, which doesn’t appear to have even a single maze in it, had to be at least the fifth film. Alas, it is merely the third. As such, I started my adventure at square one, with The Maze Runner. 

So let me tell you what I saw:

The movie starts with our hero awakening in some sort of freight elevator designed specifically to look scary (hmmmm). When it reaches its destination, our nameless hero is surrounded by young men who are dirty and probably smell. It immediately evokes Lord of the Flies, complete with a Piggy-esque character, who does indeed get killed later, so there’s that. The boys refer to the new guy as a “Greenie” which sounds like the kind of derogatory term a bunch of young boys who aren’t allowed to curse since it’s a PG-13 movie would come up with. Sorta like n00b. Their leader is named Alby and he explains that they’ve been in this place — “The Glade” — for three years. Every month a new boy arrives on the elevator with supplies. These boys all eventually remember their name, but not their past.

The Glade is surrounded by a wall that leads to a maze. Every night, the doorway into the maze closes, and the creatures that live inside the maze — “Grievers” they are called, because the author wants to cram as many letter G’s into things as possible — feed on whoever may be trapped inside with them.

Alby says there are three rules:

1. Don’t go into the maze unless you are a designated runner. 2. Do your chores. 3. I can’t remember this rule.

So yeah, the designated runners go into the maze during the day to try and map it, even though it changes nightly. But what else are you going to do with your time? Wrassle with each other?

Yes, actually! You can wrassle the non-leader alpha-male wannabe, Gally, whose name starts with a G as well.

Quick recap: Gladers like Gally who live in The Glade are afraid of Grievers. Guh.

Okay, so during his wrassle with Gally, our nameless hero takes a hit to the head and remembers that his name is Thomas. Gally still calls him Greenie. Piggy, however, calls him Thomas and tries to give him a hand-carved statue that he made for his parents that he can’t remember. They become friends and Thomas decides to get out of dodge. He gets his chance when one day, for reasons not disclosed, Alby joins the runners and ends up getting stung by a Griever which apparently causes disease. In an effort to help the runners remove an infected Alby from the maze, Thomas runs INTO the maze and becomes trapped.

Inside the maze he fights and kills a Griever, which is a monster bug with robot legs. It’s gross but kinda neat. I forgot to mention that earlier a randomly infected runner tried to attack Thomas but the Gladers fought him off with sticks and forced him into the maze. Or maybe it happens later. I forget. There’s a lot happening here, and so little of it is of any consequence.

Either way, Thomas and the other runner become the first ever Gladers to spend the night inside the maze and survive. And it seems that as a result, the natural laws of The Glade are changing. Grievers begin to attack during the day! At night, the doors to the maze stay open! Just who is Thomas and what is his function here AND WHY DOES THE NEW GIRL SEEM TO RECOGNIZE HIM?!?

That’s right! Mere days after Thomas’s arrival, a girl arrives on the elevator. A real live girl, but you’d never know it since she barely exists. From her arrival forward, she does absolutely nothing. I don’t remember her name, but I’d bet it starts with G. It’s alarming how much she’s a Diet K-Stew. Watch, this actress turns out to be an incredible performer too. Time will tell.

With Diet K-Stew arrives two vials of liquid labeled “W.C.K.D.” I forget what it stands for but since Thomas keeps having dreams about Patricia Clarkson saying “wicked is good,” I figure they’re connected. They decide to inject a vial into sickly, infected Alby, and it makes him all better.

At the same time, one of the runners reveals to Thomas that he has mapped the entire maze and determined that there is no way out. The only reason they continue to try is to keep up the illusion of hope, but Thomas is all like “no way, man, our story is based on a trilogy of books. There HAS to be a way out!” So they go back into the maze with a piece of machinery they stole off of a dead Griever. Lo and behold it’s a key! And if they use it, they may be able to escape. They head back to the Glade to tell everyone there may be a way out and then a bunch of Grievers show up and start tearing things up. They kill a lot of children and it’s pretty sick.

After a bit the Grievers just stop, and Gally tries to wrassle Thomas again since he’s mad. Much in the same way wrasslin caused Thomas to remember his name, doing it another time caused him to remember more about his past, and he decides to inject himself with something (it wasn’t a W.C.K.D. vial, but I can’t tell what it was) that makes it so he can have another Patricia Clarkson dream to help him remember even more about his past.

In his dream he discovers that he worked at some sort of lab with Diet K-Stew And was instrumental in locking all of the Gladers into the Glade. He wakes up and explains this to the gang and everyone is immediately 100% cool about it. It’s reveal with no weight or consequence, which is fine. Movie’s getting a bit long at this point. Gally however, is not cool with it, but he’s played by Will Poulter, so of COURSE he’s gonna be the unreasonable villain. Thomas convinces a group to go into the maze and escape. He’s charismatic about it, but Gally decides to offer Diet K-Stew as a sacrifice to the Grievers. It’s weird that he got to that conclusion somehow, but at least it gives her something to do besides be the girl. It doesn’t give her a ton to do, mind you, but it’s something.

Anywho, Gally is overpowered and a bunch of people get into the maze and run toward the potential exit. Grievers attack, kids get eaten, and ultimately the door opens and the Gladers escape. It locks behind them, but somehow Gally shows up with a gun that he apparently has. He’s clearly pulling a power move, but he catches a spear to the chest and dies. During the kerfluffle he shoots and kills Piggy. Thomas loses his shit. I’ve always said that an actor can be judged by his or her ability to yell “NOOOOOO!” in reaction to a loved one’s death, and this Thomas kid has got the goods!

The survivors watch a video of Patricia Clarkson claiming … get ready … that the sun exploded and cooked the earth and it formed a brain disease that all of the Gladers were resistant to. In order to study why their brains are special, scientists needed to put them all into a stressful situation to see how they’d react. Naturally, the stressful situation the scientists created involved building a gigantic maze, creating bug monsters with robotic legs, and mass brainwashing. After Patricia Clarkson explains this, she shoots herself in the head.

What’s weird is that as stupid and nonsensical as this reveal is, I expected it from moment one. Aside from the particulars, it’s really no different than the reveal in any other half-baked post-apocalyptic scenario. “There’s actually a giant, malevolent system! This was a test!”

Soldiers bust into the lab and rescue the remaining Gladers. They are put on helicopters and flown to presumed safety. No one thinks to ask the soldiers why, if they had helicopters, they didn’t just fly into the roofless Glade and rescue everyone years ago.

Then we see that Patricia Clarkson ISN’T dead, and that even this “rescue” is staged. The survivors have completed their first test, and it now makes sense why the sequel is called Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.

Note that The Maze Runner is unrelated to Blade Runner, Runner Runner, or the Native American word for corn, “maize.”

Overall, this was pretty good. Tune in next week for more.

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