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‘The Maze Runner’ a Cut Above Teenage Dystopia Genre

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CHICAGO – Yes, the future world of teenage bleakness, so popular in “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” now has its own genre. “The Maze Runner” is an excellent entry, and gets over its stilted dialogue and scary monsters by adding in surprises and atmospheric mystery.

The ending of the film – even though it screams sequel – has a heart pounding twist rooted in what-is-happening-here audacity, which started as a weird story of kids stuck in a wooded field in the middle of a gigantic mechanical maze. This is enough to fulfill the dark environment of yet another view into society’s lost future, which is apparently not influenced by any one over 30 years of age (shades of the 1960s! Groovy!). Notable are the lead young actors creating the situation, especially Dylan O’Brien (MTV’s “Teen Wolf”) and the always welcome Will Poulter (“We’re the Millers”).

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) arrives via elevator to a campground area, filled with teenage and slightly younger boys who have organized themselves into a “Lord of the Flies”-type society. The overwhelming presence in their lives is the giant maze that surrounds them. Some of the boys there are designated as “maze runners,” mapping out the route inside the labyrinth in hopes of escape.

Dylan O’Brien
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is Confronted in ‘The Maze Runner’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Thomas is at odds with some of the members of the society, including the hot-headed Gally (Will Poulter). But other campers, including Chuck (Blake Cooper) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) are on his side, and runners Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Alby (Ami Ameen) train Thomas to navigate the maze. Conditions begin to change, as Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) becomes the only girl sent to the crew, and new discoveries within the maze get them closer to whatever they will call freedom.

This wildly imaginative scenario started, naturally, in a Young Adult book series by author James Dashner in 2007. What sets it apart, both as a story and a film, is that it has an almost grim seriousness to it, and as secrets are revealed it becomes odder and more intriguing. The maze itself is part of a larger interest, and who and what controls it becomes part of the intensity. Director Wes Ball frames the material in darker emotional hues. For example, there is no teenage romance around the maze.

The actors hit their marks wonderfully, even though they’re forced to endure the corny dialogue and I-hate-you-for-no-reason confrontations between the campers. Poulter gets the hater guy assignment, and pulls it off with fiery unreasonableness, and never flags in his determination to be the fly in Thomas’s ointment. O’Brien looks terrific on camera, and has a Anthony Perkins quality – in a good way – that could evolve his career later on.

Supporting those opposites ends of the bad and good that is misunderstood, is Kaya Scodelario as Teresa – the only girl in “Boyland” – and although she only have about five lines the camera loves her. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, famous for playing Liam Neeson’s son in “Love Actually,” is all grown up and still looks the same. Blake Cooper as Chuck is the “gee-whiz” boy, and has one of the more surprising destinies.

Will Poulter
Will Poulter Portrays Gally in ‘The Maze Runner’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

And what an overall destiny it was – worthy of the best science fiction films that uses its story to set up the jaw dropping punchline (“‘To Serve Man’ is a cookbook!” for example). Director Wes Ball puts a stark and warped spin on the conclusive material and gobsmacks the audience. It was one of more satisfying action reveals of the year, even though it sets up a sequel.

Authors, get to your laptops, it’s time to think of yet another future teenage wasteland, so as to cash in on the craze. Hunger and social engineering (“Divergent” and “The Giver”) are already taken. How about a sudden disappearance of mobile devices? That will have them gasping in the aisles.

“The Maze Runner” opens everywhere on September 19th. Featuring Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Patricia Clarkson. Screenplay adapted by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Meyers and T.S. Nowlin, from the novel by James Dashner. Directed by Wes Ball. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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