Author: J.A. Hyde
September 19, 2014

SYNOPSIS: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape. Based upon the best-selling novel by James Dashner.

According to current trends in YA literature and the films translated from them, the future looks like a very dark and dangerous place for teens. Someone’s always trying to kill them, have them kill each other, take away their freedom and/or identities, and in the case of The Maze Runner, add insult to injury by taking their memories also. And you thought getting grounded and having curfews were bad! And who’s behind all these dangers and indignities? Why, diabolical adults – who else? Box office returns over the past couple of years show that the post-apocalyptic peril genre has surpassed the supernatural genre, given the successes of the Hunger Games series and the Divergent series. Left in the lurch were Twilight wannabes Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.

Director Wes Ball got the message and chose to follow in the Hunger Games/Divergent direction. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book, but I did read a detailed summary, and it appears that the script is very different from the book. Some of the preview audience teens didn’t like that, others didn’t care. Being unaware of the changes, I took the story at face value. It provides adequate suspense most of the time, but does drag a bit at other times.

Lead actor Dylan O’Brien, as Thomas, brings a huge fan base from his MTV series Teen Wolf. That base, along with the popularity of the best-selling novel, mean good karma for the box office. The story is, at its core, one of survival. Thomas wakes up in a speeding, industrial-style elevator not remembering anything – even his name at that point. He arrives in a place populated by teen-aged boys called the Glade. No one has past memories of his life, and Thomas is informed that he will remember his name in time – but nothing else. Like all new-comers, he’ll be called “greenie” until he does. He quickly discovers that things are run by de facto leader Alby (Aml Ameen), who has been there the longest and set up the rules for the community. Second in command is Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who is sympathetic to Thomas’s confusion. Will Poulter plays Gally, an alpha-male type, who doesn’t like change and is hostile to the newcomer whom he senses to be a challenger to the status quo.

Thomas is immediately befriended by Chuck (Blake Cooper), the youngest of the group and the most recent arrival before Thomas. Chuck is the only one who expresses any longing for the parents he can’t remember. No one knows why he was sent to the Glade, but a newbie arrives every month with some supplies for the community. Otherwise, they are expected to be self-sustaining.

The Glade is surrounded by immense walls, which Thomas is told obscure a gigantic, ever-changing maze. Its door is open during the day, but shut at night to protect them from a lethal life-form called Grievers. No one has seen one, and no one trapped in the maze after sundown has ever survived the night. What they do know about the Grievers is that they have not only a potent venom, but they can also tear you limb from limb. In other words, there seems to be no escape. Thomas immediately has trouble accepting this concept. He learns that there is an elite – or possibly reckless – group of boys known as “runners” who venture into the maze each day to try to map it and note changes. Some get stung by Grievers and turn violently insane before dying. Others quit when the danger gets to be too much for them. Of course, Thomas immediately wants to become a runner.

Thomas has some success in the maze, along with seasoned runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and becomes determined to find a way out. He’s constantly opposed by Gally and his followers, and blamed when things go wrong. Returning from a maze run, Thomas and Minho are astounded to discover that a girl (Kaya Scodelario) has been sent up with a note that she will be the last one sent. She is high up in a guard tower built in a tree, throwing rocks at the group of strange boys, and wielding a knife against anyone who dares to climb up. However, she remembers the name Thomas and eventually allows him up. She also remembers that her name is Teresa, and her presence triggers the memory of strange dreams for Thomas. In these dreams he gets glimpses of a lab-like setting with adults in white coats. One of them, a woman (Patricia Clarkson) speaks to him but only in incomplete thoughts so he is left as confused as ever.

The remainder of the film details their struggle to escape even though they have no idea what awaits them on the outside. Hint: it may not be at all what they expect.

Performances are skillful for the most part, but the role of Teresa is apparently reduced from what it was in the novel. Kaya Scodelario channels Kristen Stewart in both looks and acting style – not necessarily a good thing. There’s no romance in the story, and even though there’s some kind of connection between Thomas and Teresa, you never find out what it is.

The main reason to see this film is the maze itself. It is visually immense and ominous, but spectacularly so. I don’t know how much of it is CGI, but it is quite impressive. I can’t say the same for the Grievers. I found them disappointingly similar to many recent film “monsters”. The Maze Runner is an above-average, post-apocalyptic teens-in-peril film, but it never reaches the intensity of a Hunger Games film. - JoAnne Hyde


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