Title: The Maze Runner
Finally! I've Been Wondering What Happened to Tom Hanks After His Psychotic Break. You're thinking of Mazes and Monsters, though Dylan O'Brien does kind of resemble a young Pardieu.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Three Goblin Kings out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Amnesiac young man wakes up in mysterious place that's part Lord of the Flies, part Pac-Man.
Tagline: "Get ready to run."
Better Tagline: "Despite all my rage something something cage."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) is having one of those mornings: arriving in an unfamiliar area surrounded by walls and populated by other adolescent boys. He barely has time to contemplate his lack of memories before local leaders Alby (Aml Ameen) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) give him the rundown: He's in the Glade, where the boys work together in relative harmony, provided they don't venture into the colossal maze that totally surrounds them. Thomas, plagued by weird flashbacks, doesn't make it three days before running afoul of de facto Head of Security Gally (Will Poulter). And wouldn't you know it, now a girl -- Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) -- has shown up, and they always ruin everything.
"Critical" Analysis: It took me awhile (well, a few commercial breaks during the Miss America pageant, anyway) to figure out why the post-apocalypse/dystopian future figures so prominently in current young-adult (or "YA") science fiction. After all, we've seen big-budget film versions of The Hunger Games, Divergent and now The Maze Runner, adapted from the first book in James Dashner's four-book series. I tried to think of more examples, but then Miss New York started her cup routine and my temporal lobe seized up.
Where was I? Oh right, my theory (which is mine) is simply this: The post-apocalypse is the only place that offers young people realistic opportunities for advancement.
Both the Millennials and the generation following ("Generation Z?" "Minions of Minaj?") face dire economic futures. The unemployment rate among recent college graduates is higher than the national average (with the "underemployment" rate running near 17 percent). Worse than that, they're facing the very real possibility that not only will they be the first modern generation that not only fails to outlive their parents, but they'll also do worse than them financially.
What does that leave? Our grim, dystopian future, that's what. In the wasteland of the near future, anyone can rise to greatness (or at least non-Soylent Green-ness). Every kid with a useless BA in history is a budding regional warlord, every barista a potential Master and/or Blaster. These books may be simplistic in nature and outright laughable in their depiction of revolutionary theory, but at least they give the kids something to shoot for.
The Maze Runner isn't bad, as such movies go. The leads are more than sufficient for this literal tale of attractive youth gone wild (plus Chuck, the token fat kid), and the mystery is maintained to enough of an extent that we grudgingly find ourselves curious about what comes in the next two inevitable movies.
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What comes as more of a surprise is how little a role the maze itself plays in the overall proceedings. Its mysteries and dangers are hinted at early on, but action within its labyrinthine confines is limited to a handful of scenes. To first-time director (how many times have I said that recently? Jesus) Wes Ball's credit, much more attention is paid to the group dynamic among the "Gladers" and the growing conflict between Team Gally and Team Thomas. And when the veil is finally pierced and our heroes are plunged into reality, you're actually curious what happens next.
Though I must admit, it really seems like we're avoiding the cyborg elephant in the room here: Where do these guys masturbate? You've got several dozen teenage boys in the fullness of their...teenage-ness. Surely that's contributing to the overall tension levels. I believe Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost said it best:
The woods are lovely, dark and dank But I have nowhere I can wank
The Maze Runner is in theaters today. My sincere apologies to the estate of Mr. Frost.