Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Plot Hole That Swallowed “The Maze Runner”

Recently, my daughter and I caught The Maze Runner on HBO and liked the movie enough to see The Scorch Trials this weekend. What we found was a plot hole so big it literally swallowed the first film. And it left me wondering: what in the world went wrong with this franchise? Note, some *SPOILERS* to follow.

The Maze Runner was a fun film set in a dystopian future where a group of teenage boys and ultimately one girl find themselves trapped in a place called the Glade that is surrounded by a titanic wall that leads to a mysterious and dangerous maze. The maze runners are members of the “Gladers” brave enough to explore the maze and search for a way out, all the while dodging these cyborg-like giant scorpions that are trying to kill them. The big mystery, of course, is what is the maze? And why are these kids trapped in it?

The Maze Runner ends with a cliffhanger, but at least the kids have escaped from the maze, thinking they’ve been rescued by commando-like rebels in a world where the sun has scorched the earth, killing most of mankind. Its sequel, The Scorch Trials, takes place immediately after the first film. The Gladers are now in a militarized safe house, but something doesn’t seem right. They learn there were many mazes and many kids, all of whom live in this militarized barracks. And each night, a group is taken away never to be seen again. This set up is certainly suspenseful through the first 15 minutes, but in the next scene, the whole thing flies off the rails.

The hero of both films, Thomas, discovers that the groups of kids taken away each night are being put in a coma-like state while their captors “harvest” their blood, using it to find a cure to a virus that helped wipe of most of humanity. It turns out that the kids brought into the maze are immune to the virus, and their reward for surviving the maze trial is this medically induced coma. That’s where the movie kicks its predecessor down the plot hole.

The problem is in the movie’s premise: an organization called W.C.K.D., or “Wicked,” has gathered up all of these kids whose blood makes them immune to the plague and might help Wicked find a cure. But rather than just putting them into a coma right away and getting on with the harvesting, Wicked first decides to put these immune-types into a deadly man-made maze where many of them will be killed by robot scorpions. There’s no suggestion that dead kids are good for harvesting, so it makes no sense that Wicked would waste their precious blood in what amounts to a pointless game – albeit one that was the subject of the entire first film! We spent an entire movie wondering what the maze was, only to learn in the sequel that there was no point to it whatsoever.

What happens next in the film is that Thomas and his friends escape, like any sane people would who didn’t want to end up like pod people. The rest of the movie is a suspenseful and scary chase through a ruined world in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. But there is no more game or maze to be solved, only a mad dash to outrun the zombies and the forces of Wicked. Sort of like Zombieland, but without the humor.

I left the movie scratching my head. The films are based on a series by bestselling novelist James Dashner, and no good novelist could live with a plot hole that big. It turns out this problem doesn’t exist in the books. Rather, it’s the movie that jumps the track and deviates massively from its source material. While I haven’t read it, I’ve learned that The Scorch Trials novel involves another game like the maze. The kids learn that there are two groups of maze runners whom Wicked has been studying to find a cure for the virus called the Flare. Now, in what is called “Phase 2” of their tests, Wicked has infected both groups with the virus and is sending these competing teams on a race through a post-apocalyptic desert called the Scorch to a safe house where they supposedly will find a cure.

Significantly, it appears the blood harvesting plotline is nowhere to be found. As a result, both the maze trial and this new trial make some sense. There is something about the survival of the fittest nature of these game-like tests that is relevant to the experiment. And it’s far more complicated than just putting these kids in a coma and harvesting their blood. More importantly, it has to be. Otherwise Wicked would just skip these silly games and get straight down to harvesting.

I cannot imagine why the filmmakers chose to make such an enormous break from the books. I hate when that happens, and it usually never ends well. Once the “Scorch Trials” are no longer a trial or a game, any logical tie between the two movies is broken. All we’re left with is a plot hole so big it swallows The Maze Runner. And that’s a shame. Standing alone, the second film is both scary and suspenseful, and the post-apocalyptic scenery, at times, is spectacular. But it was supposed to be a movie about maze runners, and it turns out there was never any logical purpose in the movies for that mysterious maze.

But these are just my thoughts, and maybe I’m missing something. So if you have a theory on how the maze still matters in the movies, as opposed to the books, I’m dying to know.


Lisa Shafer said...

My problem with the maze runner book was the blatant sexism. When I pointed this out on my own (former, not current) blog, Dashner himself ranted at me in the comments section, not only mansplaining to me that it was not sexism even though there's only one girl, she's completely passive, and the only reason she's there is so the nerdy guy can save her at the end -- but throwing a tantrum on my blog because I dared to have an opinion about his book. (After all, I am a woman; how dare I even have an opinion!)
Dashner's an overgrown 8th grader, Maze Runner's sexist, I refuse to read any more of that junk, and, no, I haven't seen the movies.

Joseph Finley said...

Lisa - Wow, that sounds unfortunate and I don't blame you. I think it's best for authors to take criticism constructively rather than personally.

That said, thanks for the comment. It's always nice to know people are still reading the blog :)

Bill said...

Joe, philosophical question.

Why do you suppose such gaping plot holes are present in movies? Lack of respect for the audience is one thought I have. Books usually seem to take more pains to avoid doing this - at least ones I read. Not 100% successfully, of course, and books in a series are more likely to suffer from plot holes or inconsistencies.

Joseph Finley said...

Bill, I imagine a room full of studio execs thinking that some escape from whatever zombie apocalypse movie made $$ hundreds of millions so let's make this one like that! Clearly no one thought through how the audience might react when the changes made the first film meaningless. I think novelists have to be more careful about huge plot holes because it's so easy for a reader to set the book down and never pick it up again. People rarely leave theaters in the middle of the 2 hour show, so the audience is more captive.

Bill said...

Good points.

My mention of serial books comes from reading a lot of them over the years; some reaching a dozen and more sequels and/or spin offs. It must be amazingly hard for an author writing over decades to keep things consistent over a gap of numerous books. I imagine computers and searchible databases make this much easier. I mean, if character A recalls in volume 18 doing something years before, does that create a "two places at once" issue with volume 2?

Like you say, the motivation for movies sequels is different and the audience more likely to neither notice nor care.

bardgal said...

The first film was interesting. The second film - ugh zombies. Why? I'm so sick of zombies as plot line. If that weren't bad enough... egad the script. Thank you for this blog. I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw the plot whole that swallowed an entire movie. You want people who's memories have been expunged tot all, why hang them upside down so they can't think? Looks like the 2nd film is a series of plot holes and stupid choices like Prometheus. Harvesting? Reminds me of the weirding modules fro Dune. The story was fine by itself.

Joseph Finley said...

Bardgal - thanks for the comment! I agree completely.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth Lisa, the second Maze Runner movie has a way more reasonable sex ratio in its casting (2 female leads & 3-4 relevant female support characters; vs like 3 male leads and eh... 4-5 persistent / relevant-across-more-than-one-scene male support characters.)

The plothole in it though is ?????? and I was surprised searching online that most people didn't seem bothered by it. I guess the target audience is teenagers with a skew towards male teenagers.

I did not see the first film but from the synopsis it seems much more lopsided in terms of male/female roles.