The Maze Runner

ON

Cast:
Dylan O’Brien as Thomas
Aml Ameen as Alby
Ki Hong Lee as Minho
Blake Cooper as Chuck
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt
Will Poulter as Gally
Dexter Darden as Frypan
Kaya Scodelario as Teresa
Chris Sheffield as Ben
Joe Adler as Zart
Alexander Flores as Winston
Jacob Latimore as Jeff
Randall D. Cunningham as Clint
Patricia Clarkson as Ava Paige

Directed by Wes Ball

Summary:
“The Maze Runner” is an action-packed film with lots of mystery and scares. The less you know about it going in, the more you’ll be engaged by it. Fans of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” should enjoy it.

Story:
“The Maze Runner” is based on the young adult novel by James Dashner.

One day, Thomas wakes up in a rising elevator with his memory almost completely wiped. When the elevator arrives at its destination, Thomas finds himself in the middle of a large wooded location surrounded by a massive wall. This is the Glade and it is populated by dozens of young men who have also found themselves unceremoniously dumped in this location.

Thomas discovers that the young men have built their own community and it is led by Alby. He also discovers that the Glade is surrounded by an ever-changing maze. Boys called “Maze Runners” explore it during the day, but at night they return because creatures called Grievers roam the maze. Anyone trapped in it at night never returns.

Nobody knows who put them there, what the purpose of the maze is, or how to escape. And nobody seems particularly interested in solving these mysteries, but Thomas finds himself drawn to the maze and his curiosity will change their world forever.

“The Maze Runner” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images.

What Worked:
I walked into “The Maze Runner” knowing absolutely nothing about it. I wasn’t familiar with the books, I never saw the theatrical trailer, and I only caught fleeting glimpses of the commercials. That turned out to be the perfect way to see this film, because as Thomas slowly explored this world, I was right there along with him. It made the world-building all the more effective and I found myself more and more drawn into the story as Thomas uncovered new corners of the maze.

It also helped that “The Maze Runner” has a relatively unknown cast. Dylan O’Brien as Thomas doesn’t bring any excess baggage of stardom with him, so he fully becomes Thomas to the audience. The same is true for most of the rest of the cast. As a man with amnesia, Dylan doesn’t get to exhibit much more emotion than shock, wonder, and fear, but this role doesn’t call on him to make a bunch of snappy one-liners. Maybe he’ll get to flesh out Thomas’ personality in a sequel. Ki Hong Lee is also noteworthy as Minho. While he’s a leader and the main guy who knows the maze, he’s scared and ready to ditch a friend to run for his life. That makes him a bit more human since he has faults and thus a bit more likable. Will Poulter is the most recognizable face as Gally, but he has a strong performance as he blocks Thomas from exploring the maze. While he’s painted as the villain in this film, most of his arguments against Thomas are solid ones. That makes him a complex and interesting antagonist for Thomas.

One thing that surprised me about “The Maze Runner” was the intensity of the action and scares. The Grievers are pretty intimidating creatures and they give our heroes good reason to be afraid. The effects for them are impressive though they are generally shrouded in shadows, but if you’re an action fan, you’ll be into this. In fact, I think this is a case where parents should heed the PG-13 rating. It was pretty intense and I won’t be taking my 9-year-old son, who sees PG-13 movies all the time, to this one.

What Didn’t Work:
This story is a case of the journey being more satisfying than the destination. Throughout the film, I found myself completely engaged as Thomas explored the maze and uncovered its secrets, but when they finally discovered the purpose of the maze, it wasn’t entirely satisfying. In fact, the more you think about the explanation, the less sense it makes. I can’t get into specifics without discussing spoilers, but I’ll say that the purpose of the maze seems pretty stupid. I found myself more interested in finding out what happened after the credits rolled rather than what was in the black box.

The Bottom Line:
“The Maze Runner” is going to be inevitably compared to other young adult novel fare like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” and as far as dystopian dramas go, it holds its own. If you liked either of those films, you’ll probably find yourself drawn into “The Maze Runner,” and this film is strong enough that I’d be up for checking out a sequel.