Think Lord of the Flies mixed with The Hunger Games and you’ve got The Maze Runner, another dystopian tale based on a bestselling young adult novel and featuring an attractive young cast playing characters fighting for their lives. Hollywood’s still looking for the next big YA franchise to launch after the most recent attempts have crashed and burned (yes, I’m pointing at you Ender’s Game and Mortal Instruments), and with a Teen Wolf star in the lead 20th Century Fox is betting on sci-fi fans and readers of James Dashner’s book series to turn out in decent numbers for The Maze Runner. Those expectations are especially evident in the final act of The Maze Runner, which should have placed a ‘To Be Continued’ title card at the end as it doesn’t so much conclude as simply fade out.
So, the big question is is The Maze Runner a one-and-out or the start of a blockbuster series? Working in its favor is a solid job of directing by Wes Ball. He keeps the story pumping along while allowing moments of character development not driven by the action scenes. Ball’s put together a terrific cast of teens and young adults, all of whom effectively sell the strange and deadly world of Dashner’s books. And speaking of that world, The Maze Runner is visually impressive and the maze itself that’s so central to the story looks genuinely imposing and threatening enough to make sense for the young men – and, ultimately, the one young woman – trapped inside to feel incapable of escaping its walls.
The film opens with Dylan O’Brien as Thomas emerging from a high speed elevator type of transport into a walled-in community populated by teenage boys who’ve created a tight-knit, efficient community in which every member knows what’s expected of him and has assigned tasks. Led by Alby (Aml Ameen) and his second-in-command, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), this community has built areas to sleep, eat, and meet as a group, and they’ve also planted crops in order to supplement the food supply that’s delivered on a monthly basis by an unknown group. While none of those who were dropped into this environment remember anything about themselves or the outside world (they can only recall their first names), they still send out two runners on a daily basis to map out the maze and look for an escape route.
The rules in this society are simple, and at the top of the short list is the command not to go into the maze at night. The sole entrance closes at dusk and anyone caught inside is as good as dead. The maze is populated with creatures known as Grievers and no one…at least no one prior to Thomas’ arrival..has ever encountered a Griever and lived. That changes when Thomas goes into the maze to help rescue Alby, an action that sets off events that change the group’s dynamics forever.
The Bottom Line:
There are adults behind the scenes who are mostly left unseen throughout the majority of the film, and because the audience isn’t let in on why these teens were dropped into this world, there’s no real connection to the older characters once they do appear on screen. There also isn’t a complex subtext at play in the first film of the potential franchise as the teens aren’t interested in why their memories were wiped and instead are only concerned with survival. In fact, other than Thomas and the only girl (Kaya Scodelario) who arrives much later in the film, no one seems concerned with actually leaving the community they’ve created together.
The story as played out on screen has less depth than any of the other young adult franchise launchers and having not read Dashner’s books, I have no idea whether the story ever delves into the bigger issues that obviously plague this dystopian world. But while it’s all a very surface level story, at least The Maze Runner is entertaining. There’s plenty of action and some gripping interactions with the Grievers to keep the audience involved throughout the swift 110 minute running time.
O’Brien proves he can handle the lead and is backed by an impressive group of actors with We’re the Millers‘ Will Poulter and Game of Thrones‘ Brodie-Sangster are stand-outs in the ensemble, but the young cast as a whole is an engaging group who elevate a simple story into something that stands out from the pack of YA adaptations.
The Maze Runner is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images.
-By Rebecca Murray
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