At first glance, The Maze Runner looks like another stereotypical, dystopian sci-fi flick that’s trying to siphon off the success of film’s like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and half-a-dozen others. As accurate as that statement may be, however, The Maze Runner manages to stand on its own just enough to be entertaining in its own right, even if it does fall victim to its own weighty ambitions in the end.
At its core, The Maze Runner is a science fiction action movie that feels like a combination of the classic novel Lord of the Flies mixed in with bits and pieces from every other popular movie franchise of the past couple years. Its inherent familiarity is initially off-putting, as I found it difficult to connect with the lead character, Thomas, when he seemed so strikingly similar to nearly every other male protagonist in the entertainment industry.
However, as the movie gets going and begins to find its own tempo, things quickly escalate and I found myself enjoying the story a lot more than I had originally expected to. The basic plot kicks off with Thomas waking up in an elevator with no memory of anything about himself except his name. From there, he finds himself suddenly thrust into a fully-functioning society of over sixty other young men, who are all in the same predicament as Thomas.
Over the past three years, these boys have banded together to create a livable space they refer to as ‘the Glade,’ which relies on both the pure dedication of the boys themselves, and the supplies that are mysteriously given to them every month. The only catch is that the Glade is surrounded by a gigantic stone structure that boxes them in at all angles, and the only possible escape comes from a single doorway that opens into a seemingly endless maze full of unspeakable dangers.
Over the years, the boys have nearly given up all hope of escaping their strange prison, and even though they continue to send small teams of runners into the Maze to try and find a way out, they all know deep down that there’s no way out. That is, until Thomas shows up, and everything starts to change. If that sounds at all familiar to you, then trust me, you’re not alone.
There’s a little bit of everything in this movie, and if you’ve so much as read a popular book or watched a summer blockbuster in the last five-years, then you’re going to recognize a lot of the themes and plot points that make up The Maze Runner. This proves to be one of the film’s best and worst aspects, as it admirably tries to break outside the viewer’s expectations, but rarely succeeds in the way it wants to.
The movie’s greatest strength comes from both its cast and its visuals, as the entire group of young actors carry their parts well and imbue their characters with a surprising amount of heart and likeability that make them easy to root for. The only exception, unfortunately, comes from Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas, who comes across as a very bland and one-dimensional character, offering little in terms of personality or depth.
There a lot of standouts from the cast of mostly unknown, young actors, with the likes of Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee all giving surprisingly great performances. However, it’s Aml Ameen who steals the spotlight as Alby, the leader of the Glades. Alby easily has the most depth to him, and thanks to Ameen’s subtle yet undeniably expressive acting skills, his character is primarily responsible for pulling you into the story.
The Maze Runner does a stand-up job of developing both its world and its characters, but it’s the entire cast of boys that make you want to see and explore more of it. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happens, as the majority of the film spends its time gradually pulling the audience deeper and deeper into the world its created, and continually throws new and exciting obstacles at our characters for them to overcome.
Director Wes Ball maneuvers through both the frenetic, brutal action sequences and the quieter character moments with apparent ease, and it’s his keen eye for details and obvious love of the dramatic that made me enjoy The Maze Runner as much as I did. Even when I wasn’t involved with Thomas’ personal story, the breathtaking visuals and energetic pacing constantly kept me involved and entertained almost the whole way through.
The only thing that seemed out of place here was the sudden introduction of Kaya Scodelario’s character Teresa. While bringing a girl into the mix could’ve proven interesting, she’s almost immediately pushed to the sidelines and never given anything meaningful to do. Scodelario seems to be a fairly capable young actress, but without any strong material to work with, she came across just as generic as Thomas did.
The most glaring problem I have with the film though, comes from its ending, which so clumsily tries to set up a sequel that it very nearly undoes all of the good that came before it. For an otherwise enjoyable movie, the ending comes out of nowhere and leaves the audience with so many frustrating loose ends that it left my interest in the inevitable follow-up extremely thin.
The Maze Runner is one of those movies that’s hard to sum up in just a few words, and depending on who you ask, you’re likely to hear a lot of different perspectives and opinions on it. There’s no denying that the movie has its flaws, especially in terms of its familiar plot structure and boring protagonist, but the fantastic visuals and strange yet lovable supporting cast help make up for the film’s shortcoming.
There’s a lot of good here if you’re willing to look for it, and even with the film’s several glaring flaws, I definitely enjoyed my overall experience with The Maze Runner. So if you’re looking for a fun, mindless action flick, and can keep your expectations set accordingly, then I think The Maze Runner might just be worth your time. Otherwise, just wait for the rental.