The Maze Runner: A Surprisingly Refreshing Dystopian-YA Film

It seems like dystopian young adult fiction is hitting the box office by storm, with the most successful movies of late having a prophetic protagonist, a bleak and totalitarian future, and a myriad of authority figures to serve as obstacles.

The Maze Runner has it all, AND giant robot spiders. No, I’m not kidding.

The story leaps into action from the very first second with our hero, Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf), getting a rude awakening in a seemingly peaceful meadow and losing all memory of his life before this moment. He is greeted, somewhat roughly, by Alby (Aml Ameen), Newt (Game of Thrones’ Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Gally (Will Poulter), and the rest of the amnesiac young men who have been sprung into the Glade, enclosed by the maze which gives the book its title, with no idea what their “Creators” want them to do there.

The center of the maze serves as the boys’ prison-like home. During the day, its towering doors grind open, and the fastest of the Gladers try to map the maze in desperate hopes of cracking the code and busting their merry way out. It has its fair share of danger; if they don’t make it back by nightfall, the Grievers might get them — “Grievers,” also known as “giant robot spiders who live in the ever-changing maze and have a taste for hunky adolescent boys.” Seriously, if you thought The Hunger Games was pushing it with the violence factor (or if you’re a flat out arachnophobe), you will be shocked by this adventure. By the time Thomas arrives to the Glade, however, it has been a long three years, with little hope of escape to be found. But everything changes when the unseen authorities unexpectedly send the first ever girl to the Glade, Teresa (Skins’ Kaya Scodelario), who serves as more of a plot device than an actual character, putting the action into full-throttle. Soon, we find our hero on a quest not only for a way out of the maze, but for his own identity as well.

Maze Runner

Maze Runner

The most a-maze-ing thing about the movie is the fact that its director Wes Ball, whose only previous film was the seven-minute CGI animation Ruin, was given the reins to this clearly lucrative franchise. Ball has successfully transposed the decaying, vine-covered concrete jungle look of his short onto this gorgeously designed feature. The newcomer knows how to direct heart-pumping chase scenes and has facilitated surprisingly solid performances from his young ensemble cast, especially O’Brien and Poulter.

As a pretty avid fan of Teen Wolf, I can resolutely attest to O’Brien’s acting skills. He outlines his role as Thomas with that invigorating sarcasm from his role of Stiles on the show that fans know and love, but also allows the audience to empathize with his fear and humility. Scodelario’s Teresa, while generally lacking in the characterization department, still has a sort of gravity about her that picks at your brain a little and gives off a great mysterious air. My favorite part—no love triangles! In fact, there’s about zero romance in this film! There’s just no time! The maze!

Despite all the overwhelming praise I’ve given this film, I have to admit that it has an almost scalding Hunger Games feel without the light and divinity that is Katniss Everdeen. Thomas just can’t live up to that glory, unfortunately. I found his character a bit unsubstantiated and hard to appreciate as much as Katniss or Tris from the Divergent series. When it comes to it, though, I’d have to say that I do have a greater fondness for Thomas’s Maze Runner world than the worlds of either Katniss’s Hunger Games world or Tris’s Divergent. There’s something strangely appealing about the utter disorder that has fallen upon the entire planet in the franchise.

I’ll conclude this review with a heads-up: Beware the delicious cliffhanger. The sequel (and prequel) to this film have been confirmed, and if there had been an option to buy an advance ticket to The Scorch Trials, I wouldn’t have left the theater that night without one. While this is, sadly, not an option, we can still look forward to Mockingjay: Part 1, part three of the Hunger Games series, coming out this November.

While my belief that The Maze Runner is one of the better YA adaptions is pretty steadfast, I’d still love to hear some opinions from those of you who are reading this—which do you prefer: The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, or Divergent? Why? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Grade: B+

Release Date: September 19, 2014. 

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images.

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