Adapted from James Dashner’s bestselling Young Adult Novel, “The Maze Runner” fares far better than the rest of the recent crop of YA movies thanks to an appealing cast and script which exploits the full range of mystery and drama from the film’s sinister premise.
When Thomas finds himself deposited in a community of young boys remembering nothing but his name, he is welcomed into the tribe but cannot quell his curiosity about his surroundings. The boys live in the Glade a verdant green square of land surrounded on all four sides by towering stone walls behind which lie an impenetrable and ever changing maze, through which monstrous cybernetic creatures called Grievers roam. As Thomas continues to unravel the mystery of their surroundings, his actions destabilise the balance of the community, threatening everyone.
I don’t remember being this intrigued and hooked in since I watched the first series of “Lost”. And in an interesting way, that’s where “The Maze Runner” struggles as a movie: it’s all set-up and not enough pay-off so it ends up feeling like an exceptionally lavish TV pilot. I know a sequel’s on the way but it was only confirmed once the first film had been released so there was the very real risk that this could have ended up giving audiences one of the most severe cases of narrative blue balls in cinematic history.
Speaking of blue balls, the film neatly sidesteps any of the nastier, more primal aspects of a colony of boys living together autonomously, especially when a solitary girl is introduced into the population. There’s no “Lord Of The Flies”-style descent into violent power struggles or any hint of sexuality at all. Instead there is an air of peaceful agrarian brotherhood which at times strains credibility more than the gigantic moving stone maze and cyborg grasshoppers but it’s a reminder that although this is a dystopian sci-fi movie, it’s a dystopian sci-fi movie made for families to enjoy.
The cast are very good, with Thomas Brodie-Sangster successfully emerging from the shadowof his cutesy roles of the past to play a young man suddenly burdened by leadership. Dylan O’Brien is convincing as the confused but determined Thomas and his burgeoning friendship with Chuck (an excellent Blake Cooper) is one of the emotional cores of the film. The always watchable Will Poulter spends much of the film glowering in the background, with his eyebrows almost deserving of an acting nomination on their own.
Although slow to start, the film builds to a decent pace and the production values are terrific. I kind of expected a bit less time in the Glade and more maze running in the film but maybe that’s just me. After all, they couldn’t really call it “The Glade Runner” because then it would have sounded like an infomercial for a new air freshener system. Director Wes Ball keeps most of his cards close to his chest until a frenetic twenty minute finale where the film starts to yield up answers only to immediately yank them away and replace them with even more questions. No wonder it reminded me of “Lost”. It’s a great part one of a probable trilogy and it may be that we’ll have to wait until the whole sequence is complete before judging it but as a standalone movie, thanks to its plot twisting cliffhanger, it’s a frustrating but still entertaining experience.