The secret formula on How To Make It Big these days must be extremely obvious by now. You just have to look at YA adaptations. Except you’d take the shameless sex novel route, the teen tome is kind of a big deal at the moment, with Hollywood patenting the alchemy of turning pages into cash-grabs, everything from Twilight to The Hunger Games to Divergent to The Giver and even the teen melodramatic mush The Fault In Our Stars, defaulting executive producers into literary scavengers moth-eating every goddamn young adult novel in library shelves that isn’t Harry Potter. Basically, if you want to forgo flipping burgers in McDonald’s the day after earning your Bachelor of Arts, Major in Creative Writing degree, pen a dystopian sci-fi teen novel conglomerating every dystopian sci-fi novel you’ve ever read in your life and – et voila! – you have a sure-fire hit in your hands. Agents will the auction shit out of it to the braying mob, and studios will splurge moolah on it (since Mockingjay is already bowing out) and cast hot young things for added pleasing visual contingency. Ugly people don’t make box-office draw, thus protagonists in this subgenre look like a genetically-modified magazine spread models. Once you’ve managed to get this far – you’re in the safe zone. And write two more sequels. Studios will gag for it.[divider]+[/divider]
There is enough boy action here to keep to the female teen demographic happy and screaming (and ephebophiles quietly smirking in their seats) and enough kinetic maze horror to clench your butt muscles.[divider]+[/divider]
It doesn’t matter if the plot is a sub-par Stephen King derivative, or mechanically lifted from various other literary and cinematic fiction such The Lord of the Flies, The Running Man and even the aforementioned Hunger Games – there is enough boy action to keep to the female teen demographic happy and screaming (and ephebophiles quietly smirking in their seats) and enough kinetic maze horror to clench your butt muscles. Latest to the teen dystopia is The Maze Runner, and it’s an unashamed hybrid of all of the above, recycling every single trope known in the genre all in the name of entertainment. We’re plunged to familiar territory right away – a ragtag bunch of boys forcibly endures an organic Ewok lifestyle inside the heart of a big-ass maze, maintaining social order and truce within its walls, perennially guessing whether it’s all the work of an evil, child-punishing establishment or just one big fucking nightmare they cannot wake from. For all we care, it could have been the grand masterwork of a billionaire ephebophile, locking up boys in an intricately designed maze rather than your conventional basement. Plus, the police would have a real hard time locating them. Satnavs don’t do mazes, I imagine.
Anyhow, shit hits the fan when a new addition arrives into the throng, the rebellious Thomas (whose name we learn after hitting his head on the ground and suddenly becomes BFF’s with the majority after an entire day of hostility) breaks the prescribed order and all hell breaks loose. So far, so predominantly sub-standard sci-fi. To his credit, director Wes Ball spends ample of time to map out this community, laying the ground rules despite how conventional they are. And halfway through, Kaya Scodelario pops out of the box. Let me paraphrase, a female character gets dropped into the middle of the stag party (it’s not the sort of party you think it is) because, well, naturally. Despite you contemplating – oooh, this gets interesting, sexual conflict! – her presence seems to be utterly insignificant to the story, except she only highlights the fact that chastity seems to the fourth rule in this colony of asexual teenage boys (yeah, right). Any semblance of sexual frisson has been dispensed with, portraying teenages like celibate monks or something.
But when the film shifts gear into pure claustrophobic terror, The Maze Runner disperses your curious thoughts about sex politics as it gets you busy clutching your armrest when the action sequences kick in. Ball’s popcorn movie becomes more interesting (thankfully!) when his camera penetrates deep into the bowels of the maze and revels into the unknown. The walls shift, and so does our expectations. Key to the film’s said tense, butt-clenching workout moments are what they call Grievers, huge, frantic Wild Wild West-style spiders, with the ability to detect brain function and stress levels. Much like your shrink, only more fucking scary and totally disinterested in your survival. Questionable dynamics abound – their raison d’etre and why the fuck they’re killing these poor kids – lead to unsurprisingly underwhelming reveal. There is much joy to be had watching a makeshift group of young, vulnerable yet courageous dissidents, hardscrabbling their way out of the maze only to be confronted with Patricia Clarkson explaining a stale dystopian genre twisteroo. Thanks, but we’ve heard that all before, love. Now – please pack your stuff and come back another day when you have something new to say.