Box Office Democracy: The Maze Runner
It’s easy to throw The Maze Runner in with the rest of the Young Adult fiction boom, and it’s probably mostly true, it is a YA book, it does seem to have made in a response to the money being trucked in by Twilight and The Hunger Games but there’s a world of difference here and much of it centers on having a male character be the center. The Maze Runner has a stronger focus on action and gives much less attention to establishing characters. Perhaps this is serving someone in some demographic but it feels too soft to be a real action movie and too hard to contend with the other YA franchises.
There are only three characters in The Maze Runner that I would need to use more than just “The <blank> Guy” to describe. This isn’t unheard of in movies but it’s a serious problem when the female lead falls in to that category (she’s The Girl Guy) along with almost every ally of Thomas, the hero. There are people who stand by him the whole way and seem to be some of his most trusted friends that I’m not even sure got named in the film. It’s hard to get invested in the climactic battles when the kids being thrust in to harms way feel like 80% red shirts. It’s also a bad sign for a franchise when two of the three characters that feel the most complete die in the first film. They’ve left a lot of heavy lifting for the sequels.
It’s strange transitioning to this from franchises like The Hunger Games or Divergent because those are stories that are very much about sexuality and/or romanticism and neither of those concepts are even touched upon by The Maze Runner. We are introduced to a society that is exclusively pubescent boys and no one ever talks about the absence of women or anything like that. When they introduce the first female character ever to set foot in this world she’s treated as an oddity and a curiosity but no one seems interested in her as a romantic partner. I wonder if this is just the different way this kind of story has to be told with a male lead, or more pessimistically if a female character has to define herself by the men in her life whereas a boy can just be about running that maze. I’m sure that by the second or third sequel we’ll be asked to believe that Teresa is very important and that Thomas is defined by his love for her but it is not present here at all.
Ultimately, The Maze Runner stumbles when it can’t get past the clichés that have so quickly defined this entire market segment. I’m no longer impressed by post-apocalyptic worlds, I’m not surprised when adults and authority figures are full of lies, I’m not inspired when the main character is instantly the best at whatever things they try. This has been playing out again and again in seemingly countless movies over the past four years and I need something a little fresher than a skewed gender ratio and some flashy production design. This is a movie that if it were released the week after the next Hunger Games movie would be a flop of epic proportions because it would be so plain to see how little it brings to the table in terms of story or construction. The Maze Runner is less a true piece of cinema and more a realization that demand for a YA movie has reached a point where almost anything will hit.