How many times has an up-and-coming young-adult writer realized that they owe their living to Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight? Not very often anymore, apparently. With The Maze Runner, James Dashners’ recent success, aspiring bestsellers might have a new person to thank.
There is a basic plot-line for most teen novels these days, and it almost always includes a dystopian society, or lack thereof. For some reason, post-apocalyptic cultures appeal to us. Maybe it’s because we like to think that we can never possibly get that bad.
In Maze Runner, a terrible disease called the Flare ran through the population, taking away people’s ability to feel any “good” emotions. Of course, we only learn this in the last ten minutes of the movie, so the whole concept of putting boys in a huge maze seems completely pointless.
But that’s exactly what WICKED has done. When the movie opens, the viewer is put immediately into a vertigo-inducing freight elevator with a gagging, coughing, completely disoriented 16-year-old who can’t even remember his own name.
Thomas (played by “Teen Wolf”s Dylan O’Brien), is hauled out of the cage by a motley crew of teenage boys who all act like this is entirely normal. But for them, it is. Some of them have been there for two years, and a new “Greenie” is sent up every month. By who? They don’t know yet.
And what does Thomas do? He takes off running. This is, after all, the Maze Runner. But when he pulls up short, all you can do is stare around with him. Director Wes Ball might not understand that 50-some teenagers would probably eat each other before they developed a functioning community in the middle of a gigantic labyrinth, but he knows how to make an impressive CGI maze.
He is soon introduced to the leader of the gang, Alby (Aml Ameen), who is infinitely nicer than in the book, and Gally (“We’re The Millers”s Will Poulter), who immediately dislikes Thomas for seemingly arbitrary reasons. But we can forgive him. We all know at least one person that we just don’t like, just because.
As soon as Thomas stops trying to run away, Alby shows him around the Glade, the boys’ name for their living space. Once there, we are introduced to the hypnotically good-looking Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Alby’s second-in-command. “Well, it’s a good thing you’re always around, then.” Sigh. Amusingly self-deprecating British guy. Another stereotype to check off the list that the screenwriters followed to the letter.
In the Maze, each boy has been assigned a job. And if they do their job and follow the rules of the Glade, they do fine. But the Runners run the greatest risk of death, because their job is to map the Maze and try to find a way out. Each night, the Maze changes, making it seemingly unsolvable. But they can’t stay out to map the change, because the Grievers are out there. And Grievers were put in the Maze for the sole purpose of killing anyone who tries to pull an all-nighter. Conveniently, however, the lead Runner, Minho (Ki Hong Lee), takes a liking to Thomas.
So that when, predictably, Thomas breaks the rules and sprints into the maze to be a hero and save Minho and Alby, he’s rewarded for it by being made a Runner, much to the admiration of his new, obviously doomed-from-the-start friend Chuck (Blake Cooper).
But for all the typical blockbuster stuff, “Maze Runner” is an enjoyable movie. The special effects are incredible, even when you would really much rather look away from the slimy Grievers. These monsters make make you die a slow, painful death by poison, so of course Thomas has to take one on by himself. The cast is very good, with the exception of a completely wooden Kayla Scodelario, who plays the lone girl, Theresa.
But let’s be glad Theresa is there. Because for all her underbite acting and silent knife-pointing, she proves that boys and girls can change each others lives without romance. When she’s sent up the day after Thomas with a note saying that *gasp*, “she’s the last one ever”, she does what any sensible teenage girl does when thrown into a strange environment run by desperate boys. She grabs a cleaver and heads for the treehouse.
And when Thomas, who has at least ten death wishes and a love of irrational behavior and danger, goes to talk to her, that’s all they do. They just talk. She remembers him from somewhere. And she looks familiar to him, too. But even when his head gets banged against several hard surfaces, that doesn’t jog his memory like it did when he remembered his name. Because that’s not how memory works. And in a more predictable plot, it would have been Theresa’s sweet, sweet kisses that bring the memories flooding back. But not in “Maze Runner”. Because these kids don’t have time to take cute walks in the woods surrounding the Glade. They have to get out.
And although the screenwriters left out a major plot element in Thomas and Theresa’s telepathy, their relationship, along with the camaraderie among the surviving Gladers, flourishes more than enough to leave the 12-to-18-year-old girls for whom O’Brien and Brodie-Sangster were cast waiting impatiently for the next movie, “The Scorch Trials”, which is already in production.
Verdict? “The Maze Runner” is worth your time, if only as an excuse to eat popcorn on a rainy Saturday afternoon. There are several moments where you will want to turn it off and rant against Scodelario’s horrible performance, or Thomas and Minho’s botched attempt at saving Alby that resembles a lynching slightly too closely. But there are also plenty of moments where you will be on the edge of your seat, rooting for the Gladers and eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series.
The Gladers- (L-R): Gally, Theresa, Thomas, Minho and Newt