In The Labyrinth

I watched the Maze Runner films.

The Maze Runner (2014) starts with a confused young man awaking in some sort of elevator moving him along with some supplies rapidly up to the surface. When he arrives it turns out a lot of other young men were expecting the delivery.

It turns out they live inside a green space referred to as “The Glade”, surrounded on a ll sides by huge stone walls. At the centre of each wall are sliding doors that open each morning and close in the evening.

It seems that supplies come to the surface once a month along with a new member of the population. Everyone seems to have their memories blanked, although they recall their names after a few days. Thomas is the new arrival. He is fascinated by the exits but is warned that only selected “runners” are permitted to travel out and explore the surrounding maze each day. It’s not safe to stay in there overnight as mysterious “grievers” make fearsome noises. The population needs to be preserved as everyone has to play their part. The community has been growing for 3 years and there was some sort of disorder a while ago, which is why there is an emphasis on rule-following now. So the mood at first is somewhere near Lord Of The Flies.

There seems to be a stream or freshwater source in The Glade but it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone to trace its source. Thomas is told that it isn’t possible to climb the ivy all the way to the top of the walls, yet we see that the glade-dwellers have built a few tall structures and some ladders so it wouldn’t be beyond them to make an effort.

Inevitably Thomas slips in amongst the runners and gets trapped in the outer Maze overnight. They meet a Greiver, which seems to be a large robotic arachnid, and manages to crush it in a closing doorway. Later the lads retrieve some sort of control unit from the corpse, which is of course useful for unlocking gateways in the outer Maze.

The Runners have been constructing a model of the Maze over these 3 years but can’t figure out any possible final exit.

But then there is another supply load, which includes a novelty: a female, Teresa, who carries a message that this will be the last shipment. Thomas begins to have memories of working with her in some sort of lab prior to being sent to the glade.

Thomas rallies a few like-minded people that they need to make a big push to get further out in the Maze, and with the new gadget they are able to unlock some new zones. But this seems to provoke a reaction against them, and the Grievers are unleashed on a killing spree. There’s no choice but for a final desperate charge all the way to get through the final barriers using the code sequence that the older Runner has figured out from the numbered gateways in the outer ring. But how does he know which number in the sequence should come first? Anyway, they get out and discover the wreckage of the control room that Thomas and Teresa vaguely remember previously working in.

They find a video left by Ava Paige, who was in charge of the project. It was being run for W.C.K.D (“Wicked”), the World Catastrophe Killzone Department, which I think we can all agree is absolute worst name for a sinister agency, not even as good as the comedy acronyms such as K.A.B.O.O.M. in The Naked Gun.

Paige explains that the Earth has been mostly devastated by climate change and disruption caused by solar activity, leading to “the Scorch” deserts and ruins, and which was then followed by “the Flare”, a terrible virus. The only hope now lies in the younger generation that seems to be growing with natural immunity. But only a small cohort have this, and they need to be sequestered and studied under weird social-psychological experimental conditions. This last bit is never properly explained though it may seem that the kids need to be under special degrees of mental stress for their brains to generate the enzyme with greatest potency. This would seem to explain why the film ends with the lads being deceived that they are getting rescued by rebel forces working against W.C.K.D.

The Scorch Trials (2015) starts right after the end of the first film with our heroes being shipped in to a new secure unit, where they meet lots of other kids who have been in other Mazes. It is not quite clear if these are the only ones with the ingenuity to manage similar escapes, or they were just “rescued”.

The arrivals are given access to showers and new clothes, which is the first time we address the detail that there seemed to be no arrangements for regular washing or laundry in the Glade. The new centre is under control of creepy boss Janson.

Thomas soon figures something is amiss and discovers that Paige is still in charge and they are in a bigger experiment. So he musters another escape.

Making out in to The Scorch they reach the ruins of old shopping malls and we discover that victims of the Flare are rampaging zombies, and that the infection can be caught off them (not all the Maze inmates have immunity, it seems).

We never hear exact locations of where we are but it would seem to be the mid-west US, and presumably some of the wrecked urban vistas would be recognisable as maybe Minneapolis or similar. The time is also never stated but we can infer somewhere between 2030 -50.

The ruined cityscapes are the outstanding parts of these films and that’s where we come closer to a film version of a different kind of literary source: Scorch Atlas.

They link up with a colony of surviving Hispanic-Americans led by master-fixer Jorge and his lady companion Brenda (played by Rosa Salazar, star of Undone). For some reason, this group of survivors are called a “gang”, which doesn’t apply to any other group.

Jorge helps the kids in their plan to reach a rebel anti-W.C.K.D. resistance group they’ve heard about that are based in the mountains. They have success at this, but it turns out one of them wants to rejoin W.C.K.D. and the programme because that’s the best chance to restore the world.

The Death Cure (2018) starts six months after the showdown at the end of the previous instalment. We start with a superb operation against a W.C.K.D. armoured train shipping a load of immune youngsters.

The rebels have built up their own enclave near the coast, but Thomas wants to liberate the final batch of his people from their oppressors. There is not much consideration of Teresa’s reasoning for rejoining the forces of residual authority.

But we learn that W.C.K.D. command centre is in a walled city, a fabulous place that survived like the old world.

The walled city makes no sense in this world. How is it being supplied with energy and food, how were resources marshalled and protected to construct its defences, why was the action not replicated around the world (we never hear about the non-US parts of the world)? Even more ridiculous than the timewasting constructions of the Mazes. Teresa and Paige are in meetings with anonymous Important People who discuss where priorities should go, which is baffling since the world outside the walls is already well lost, and now full of angry left behind masses who want to fight their way in.

What do all these people do, shuffling around as if they are still living the late 20th century on a planet where most of the surface has regressed to prehistoric conditions? Why are the lights in the skyscrapers on at night when there are curfews? What kind of economy could this city state have? The only productive sector surely would be the W.C.K.D. research labs, trying to make a manufacturable vaccine from the matter collected from the test subjects. This is a weird illustration of Fredric Jameson’s comment, that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism: in these films, the former is mostly complete, and the latter shows no sign of yet occurring.

It’s strange to see these fictional versions of mask-wearing commuters trying to avoid “an airborne virus” recorded in 2018. But we do see the rage of the “left behind”, who storm the citadel and wreak their revenge on the lofty elite, who are fighting themselves anyway.

There’s lots of jolly exciting action, including a wonderfully preposterous getaway utilizing a huge crane, which ends with a wrecked sign flickering “NOT IN SERVICE” like a proper comic end-note on a Roger Moore Bond action sequence. There is also a lot of sentimental nonsense about how it’s all about feelings and just Being There For Each Other (and unspoken bonds between males who’ve been through hell together). Teresa was quite right to try to make a vaccine that could still save millions of miserable lives, rather than destroy the last remaining pharma research facility in a nihilist missile attack. The motive for the final apocalyptic rampage appears to be a Dance Of The Mad, determined to tear down the last vestiges of organised civilisation. The freeliving paradise that the rebels construct afterwards will of course have nothing like the same advantages and we have no reason to expect it to survive long in to the future.

The initial set-up of the Maze is something like the shifting test-environment of the first Cube horror film, and at first this world has similarities to the underrated false-world thriller The Island. The phases in which the youngsters are put into virtual reality nightmares in order to stimulate serum production is something like the world of The Matrix films. The premise that a new generation of youngsters with special abilities need to be tested in an artificial challenge zone was done very well in The Overman Culture (1972).

The Maze Runners are jolly good though the plot starts to falter and lose its way in the 3rd instalment. But all our ruined cities will be ploughed into the sand eventually.

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