The Maze Runner is an average young-adult science fiction tale, elevated strictly on the strength of its visuals.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is a teenage boy who awakens in a freight elevator as its lifted up to a place called The Glade with no knowledge of who he is or where he’s at. When he calms down, the leader of the boys Alby (Aml Ameen) explains what they know of the place and the three rules which they abide by: 1) pull your weight 2) don’t attack one another and 3) don’t go into the maze. The exception to this last rule, of course, are the titular Maze Runners who are “the strongest and the fastest” of the boys, lead by a boy named Minho. Naturally, it doesn’t take Thomas long to upend the natural order of things as he’s not terribly thrilled with the idea of being stuck somewhere forever. There’s a further wrench thrown into the mix when a girl (the first one ever) named Teresa (Kayla Scoldelario) shows up, a note that says “She’s the last one EVER” scrunched up in her hand. Can Thomas figure out what’s going on before they all get killed? You know the answer to this. You also probably already know, or have a guess as to what’s going on and you’re probably not that far off. This movie (like the books) aren’t exactly deep.
One of the first things you notice is that the cast is ethnically diverse as is much of the leadership: Alby is black and Minho is Korean. Unfortunately, this does unfortunately give a film a slight tinge of White Man Knows Best as he’s the one that helps Minho keep his head on straight and he’s the one the that helps them find new paths. I’m guessing it’s unintentional, but it is there. Fans of the story will notice how much has been condensed: the first book contained a lot of puzzle solving as Thomas and the others tried to figure out the mysteries of the maze. In the film however, it’s reduced to a solitary scene between Thomas and Minho where he reveals there’s a sequence to how the maze opens and the climatic escape where Minho trying to spit out the code to add some (not really there) tension to the affair. It’s definitely tacked on and you wouldn’t miss it if it were gone. It honestly feels like it’s there as a nod to the fans, a way for the screenwriters to try and show that they really did read the book. Another thing mostly missing from the film is the faux-swearing that drove me crazy in the book. It’s only used once or twice, it’s never really explained, and again, it feels like it’s there strictly for fan service.
Another thing you notice: we still have no explanation as why Teresa needed to be there beyond as a plot device (she carries two convenient tubes of Griever antidote), let alone why she’s female. It’s just there and serves as the basis for some “that’s what girls are like!” jokes that aren’t terribly funny.
Acting here is serviceable at best varying from so-so to decent. O’Brien does what he can with what he’s given. Characters, as in the book, are fairly flat and the screenplay doesn’t give them much to play with, so a lot of the performances are one note. The score is there to provide cues for emotional moments if the script and/or the acting didn’t quite convince you of the weight of the scene. The biggest sore thumbs in this story are Gally (Will Poulter) and Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) the antagonists inside and outside The Glade respectively. Gally’s character is decent concept – yeah, scared kids who see things falling apart are going to be apt to point to what seems like the obvious agent of change as the culprit – but it kind of comes across as a giant temper tantrum. Ava Paige, who leads the experiment, all but rubs her hands together and goes MWAHAHAHAHA because the script demands it. It’s kind of cringe worthy, as is the tag line, “W.C.K.D is Good”
All that said: compared to the genre YA movies that have come out so far (Divergent, Vampire Academy and The Giver) it’s a bit better than most. It doesn’t feel bloated and it moves along fairly well. Weaknesses in the move really due to the weakness of the original source material. The ending is a bit cringe worthy, but it’s a series and you kind of expect of that.
This isn’t the Hunger Games and if you’re going in expecting a film of that caliber, you’ll be disappointed. If you keep your expectations in check, turn off your brain and watch to see teens trying to outrun giant spiders with mechanical legs and freakishly long stingers you could enjoy yourself.
Just try to see it as a bargain matinee.