Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Maze Runner is "The Event" movie of the Summer.

Personally, I'm really excited by the current state of Young Adult Fiction. Despite the rebirth of the genre coming from series I'm either indifferent to (Twilight) or sort of annoyed by (The Hunger Games), there's a lot of really good and interesting stuff happening in that world, and a lot of fantastic book series, like Mistborn, being rebranded for a new generation to discover. It's great, and I fully support the YA fever that seems to have swept the nation. Anything that leads to more kids reading is great. Anything that leads to more kids reading fantasy and sci-fi, to me, is even better.

So, I was excited to go and check out The Maze Runner. The previews showed a really cool mystery, an interesting location, and some decent acting from the usual twenty year olds pretending to be teenagers. It seemed like Lord of the Flies meets...well, a maze, and that could be really fascinating. When I saw the final movie, the mystery was there. The acting was there. The setting was there. But the movie fell into a deep trap, one we should long ago have learned to avoid. One that is exemplified best by a short-lived television series on NBC known as: The Event. Spoilers for The Maze Runner to follow.

It's out of focus! And myyyyssteriousss!

About ten years ago, there was this TV show known as Lost. And Lost, at it's core, was a mystery show. The giant, overarching mystery of the Island, and how everyone got there, and what was happening with it, gripped viewers in a way not seen since Twin Peaks. And because of success, imitators came along as fast as they could. For a while, every single drama on television was trying their damndest to be Lost. Series long, overarching mysteries were everywhere. The Event was no different. But where Lost gave you main characters who didn't know what was going on, and were discovering the pieces of the mystery as they went, The Event tried a different tactic. They decided that nearly everyone on the show would know what was going on - they just would talk in riddles and vagueries so that the audience wouldn't know what was going on. This is a terrible idea, and led to the show's cancellation pretty much immediately.

The Maze Runner, unfortunately, follows this same idea.

In the film, the main characters are trapped inside a gigantic maze, having lost their memories and learning to survive on their own. Their two goals are: find out who they are, and escape the maze. When our brand new, shiny faced main character Thomas (Dylan O'Brian) appears, the characters all around him have all of the information he needs to survive in this brand new world. Only - they don't bother to tell him any of it.

The kid is naturally curious about this gigantic maze that is constructed around the field in which they all live. The other boys stop him from going inside, but never explain why. It would take two seconds to say "Because the maze changes during the day, and during the night there are monsters who will kill you." Instead, they leave him in the dark because...reasons? It makes for more dramatic storytelling, I suppose, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

"Oh, that's what's in the Maze? Yes, I'll definitely stay here!"
That, however, was not even the biggest example of characters holding back for no reason. We discover, about halfway through the movie, that if a character is "stung" (by what, is not explained until much, much later, we're just supposed to know) they slowly rot away and die. However, if they are given this wonder drug that was sent through with the final castaway to be dropped off in the meadow, they not only recover, but recover all of their memories. The first time this happens, the boy dies before he can say anything. That's all right, good tragic way to hold back information. But the second time, Alby (Aml Ameen) recovers, and has a full ten minutes of movie time to explain to everyone exactly what the hell is going on. Even though this character is portrayed as the leader of the society, who was strong enough to build it entirely out of chaos, and survive for a month on his own, getting his memories back leaves him a weepy mess who can't bother to blubber out more than one or two cryptic sentences. Sorry guys, that doesn't track - even a weaker character who had spent months with his friends, trying to get his memories back, would explain the hell out of the situation at the first chance he got. It was so ridiculous it took me entirely out of the movie.

There's a lot of things I was willing to let The Maze Runner get a pass on. The kids have names for everything, and all of them are very clearly Author Given Names to Sound Cool - the monsters are called Grievers, for example, which is a name no teenager would ever give something. But that's ok, I understand when we're writing a cool story we want to have cool names for things. That Thomas is able in about a month to solve all the problems the other boys have had for years is ludicrous, but books need a main character to be special, sometimes. I would've bought all of this, but then, even at the end, the film kept trying its hardest to ape The Event.

The boys find themselves in the computer control room at the heart of the Maze. A video plays, and a woman appears - the woman scientist we know to be in control of the entire Maze. And for two whole minutes, she goes on an expository rant that reveals almost nothing except vagueries about the state of the world, and the purpose of the Maze. Where the characters come from and why they were in the Maze is not touched on. Then the characters are immediately wisked away to the next movie.

Yes, thank you, Stereotypical Evil Bully Character, that was my reaction, too.
The Maze Runner has some great world building. It's got good acting. It's well shot and the art direction is fantastic. But it falls on its sword when it decides that characters would act in a way that makes no sense at all, just to continue the mystery at its core. That's just lazy writing. If there's one thing a major motion picture should never, ever do, it's remind me of "The Event."

Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host for The Ace of Geeks. He loves him some teen dystopian fiction stories. And teen superhero stories. But not teen romance stories, oddly.

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