Low-fi,high action maze mania
With more action than the underperforming “The Giver” and a better story than the massively popular “Divergent,” the movie adaptation of James Dashner’s novel “The Maze Runner” is a well-executed thriller and is certainly the best YA adaptation since the last “Hunger Games” film. First time director Wes Ball, a former visual effects artist, makes an impressive debut fashioning a tight, well-paced action adventure that is decidedly lo-fi in design but engaging nonetheless.
The script calls to mind the fraternal in-fighting of “The Lord of the Flies” and has all the typical elements of the genre, including a dystopian future backdrop, rebellious protagonists, and of course, handsome young adults in the ensemble – in this case, notably all boys with one exception.
When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, a terrific choice) arrives at woodland prison called The Glade, his memory has been wiped and he is greeted by a group of similarly aged young men and their charismatic leader Alby (Ami Ameen). Thomas soon learns there is no escape past the towering ivy-adorned walls and the elaborate labyrinth of stone and steel that guards the exterior. For two years Runners have tried to map an escape route, but those who are left on the outside overnight never return because they are likely victims of one of the many Grievers, giant cyber-scorpions who patrol the maze.
Stubborn, or perhaps aggressively curious, Thomas can’t sit still without trying to escape. This idea is met with resistance by Gally (Will Poulter), another leader who feels survival depends on not rocking the proverbial boat. All of the young fairly unknown cast members do an admirable job, including Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, who as the only female isn’t given much to do but will likely have a greater part in the sequel.
The story hints at the mystery behind The Glade’s true purpose, with the kids being played for pawns in some higher scientific experiment. But the point of “The Maze Runner” is not really its “Twilight Zone” subtext but the fast-paced, suspense-building drama with the film delivering serviceable thrills and just enough (non-gratuitous) gore to keep the film from receiving an R rating. Heroism, camaraderie, and taking risks are all worthwhile themes of “The Maze Runner,” a modestly budgeted film that doesn’t take a backseat to more costly, comparably-targeted and similarly-themed adaptations.
Rated “PG-13” for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action including some disturbing images.