The Maze Runner

Posted by Joel Copling on September 18, 2014

"The Maze Runner" is likely to receive unworthy resistance from those who are weary of movie adaptations of young-adult novels, but it works, in large part due to a willingness to keep the audience in the dark for as long as it takes to bring its protagonist out of it. This particular adaptation, by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin, is of the first in a trilogy written by James Dashner, and if an initial installment's position in cinematic occupation is to make one wonder where it goes next, the screenwriters have succeeded. There's a commendable air of uncertainty that permeates the proceedings in this movie, even amid an irritating persistence in explaining rules over and over.

The Glade is a place of uneasy tranquility, an oasis in the unknowable that is the Maze which surrounds it. Alby (Aml Ameen) was the first to arrive, but that was three years ago. Monthly, a new boy arrives. Alby and each of the newcomers in stride have created a solid economy and civilization in this relatively cramped space (Each of the four walls is roughly three-quarters of a mile from the others). The others include Gally (Will Poulter, highly impressive in a role that could have been monotonously antagonistic), the biggest of the lot, who is convinced the Glade is his new home; Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Alby's second-in-command, who just wants everything to turn out smoothly; Chuck (Blake Cooper, who needs a long and storied career, ASAP), the youngest of the lot, who is helpful to our protagonist no matter what, and Minho (Ki Hong Lee), leader of the Runners (who map the Maze, which changes daily, though there seems to be a pattern).

Our protagonist is Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), who doesn't remember his name (This is normal, since he and the others don't remember anything else, either) when he's unceremoniously shoved into this civilization, but whose presence pretty much immediately changes the solid foundation on which the Glade has been established. He wants to become a Runner (which one doesn't just become, predictably enough). He enters the Maze without permission, to aid another Runner's attempts to save his friend. When he beats the system and defies the mythical idea of "surviving a night in the Maze," the system fights back. Differences emerge in the Maze. Possible escape routes are found. A girl (Kaya Scodelario), the first one these boys have seen in living memory, arrives and knows Thomas by name. Stranges dreams emerge of another life--or are they dreams?

This Maze, by the way, is really something, made all the more intimidating and, in the most unnerving way, graceful by expert production design. I won't be the one to reveal all of its secrets, but particularly impressive is a maze within the maze comprised entirely of enormous, blade-like, shifting doors (There are also the Grievers, biomechanical beasts from Hell, with which to deal, though the CG work on them is more rudimentary than outright frightening). The film to which it belongs is almost entirely comprised of establishing its own rules, and the dependency on this habit is occasionally wearying. But the mystery of why these teenagers are stuck here, even with a semi-explanatory denouement that ratchets up as many stakes as it does teasers for an adaptation of Dashner's second installment in the trilogy ("The Scorch Trials"), is intriguing enough for "The Maze Runner" to work.

Film Information

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

Directed by Wes Ball and written by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin, based on the novel by James Dashner.

Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, intense sci-fi violence/action including disturbing images).

113 minutes.

Released on September 19, 2014.