Review: Wes Ball Delivers with Engaging 'The Maze Runner' Adaptation
by Alex Billington
September 16, 2014
What do we do? How do we get out? Sometimes I love going into a film without knowing anything about it, without knowing about or having read the book, without knowing the plot aside from whatever glimpses have appeared in trailers. Usually, if the film is compelling, and everything is laid out in a coherent way that builds properly, this can lead to an incredible experience involving suspense wrapped around mystery. The Maze Runner is an awesome, suspenseful movie that shows how easily a director can step up and compare to other "big" adaptations by focusing on telling a good story. I must admit that I haven't read the book and went into this fresh, but it was still a fully entertaining and engaging experience. Wes Ball is the real deal.
The movie opens on Dylan O'Brien waking up inside a caged elevator. After reaching the top, the doors fly open and he's pulled out by the others. Suddenly he's the latest member of a small band of teenage boys camped out inside a small forested area inside a big maze that they can't escape. He can't even remember his name at first, but eventually figures it out – Thomas. But who is he really? And who sent him here? The maze that surrounds them is humongous, with massive moving cement blocks that close at night and nasty "griever" creatures that chase them down to eat and kill them. They've been sending "runners" out to scout for years, but haven't found a way out yet. Thomas will change all of that. I love that it's as simple of a story as this, from here we follow and watch as he figures it out on the go. Learning that it's try, try, try, or else.
When it comes to a plot like this, that involves a suspenseful story with lives at stake and questions around every corner, I prefer that the film just start and we jump in without any unnecessary setup. Too often we see movies that spend all this time on setting up back stories or explaining characters, which can work when needed, but with a script that is all about taking viewers down the same rocky, exciting, frightening path as the main character it's best to just put things into Drive from the start and gun it. That's what happens with The Maze Runner - it begins, we get an explanation through the character discovering the world himself, and it continues. As he begins to question what's happening it moves at a swift pace that's never too slow or too fast, we begin to watch and learn while never losing interest. It starts and never lets up, right to the end.
As much as this film can pretty much be summed up as Cube meets The Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies, that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Yes it's true that it combines those three elements into one similar story, but it's still a damn good movie thanks to director Wes Ball. This is Ball's first feature, making the leap into Hollywood after breaking out with his short film Ruin posted online a few years ago. And damn does he impress. Ball does a great job with the limited resources he has, making the world and the walls feel complete. His cinematography is sleek (thanks to DP Enrique Chediak) but never overdone, he makes the action exciting to watch but never pushing too far out of the world without jumping back to the story again.
The other reason I enjoyed The Maze Runner is that Ball never reveals too much over the course of the entire film, and doesn't spoil the story of Thomas or deviate into an extensive backstory. It stays on course, follows him through to the end, allows him time to make friends/enemies with the other boys in twists that all pay off, and gives us enough intrigue about what's happening to wonder what's next. Of course this is the perfect setup for a movie studio like 20th Century Fox because it means they can successfully turn this into a franchise with more movies to come. However, even without really understanding the who or why of the "Maze", I still enjoyed the first movie as is. Above all it was so engaging to watch, at least as someone who wasn't familiar with the story/book beforehand, and I'm curious to revisit and see what else I can figure out.
For a first-time feature film, The Maze Runner proves more than anything just how talented Wes Ball is and how much I can't wait to see his directing career continue from here. He's already working on the sequel (titled The Scorch Trials), which I'm already planning to see, but aside from this series I have a feeling he's going to be a great director bringing us some definitive work in the years to come. The Maze Runner isn't flawless, with some problems related to the one female character (played by Kaya Scodelario), and the way the ending jumps between crazy story beats almost too quickly, but I still had a fun time watching it and will be back for more. The rest of the cast is also worth noting: Ki Hong Lee as Minho, Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, Aml Ameen as Alby, Will Poulter as Gally, Blake Cooper as Chuck. Nice job, guys.
Alex's Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing