The Maze Runner (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★
His memories erased, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a cage-like elevator, soaking wet, as the clunky box makes its way up to the Glade, a place where a community of boys, known as the Gladers, has formed over three years. They have no idea why they were sent there. Their life is defined by a consistent attempt to find ways of making it out of the surrounding labyrinth which just so happens to change every night.
Come daytime, a gate opens and Runners like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) and Ben (Chris Sheffield) go into the maze, memorize its geography, and try to recognize patterns. While, in theory, it should be relatively safe while the sun is out, it is always a possibility that one might not make it out in time before the gate closes and massive spider-like creatures, known as Grievers, come out to hunt.
Directed by Wes Ball, “The Maze Runner” is an entertaining, story-driven, mysterious, and suspenseful adaptation of James Dashner’s best-selling novel. It is clear that the picture’s strength lies in the rising action because it concerns itself with details, from the specific roles the boys have undertaken in order to create a working community to the curious maze begging to be deciphered. Because the screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin is able to establish the rules with clarity, when such rules are inevitably broken, it is all the more engaging to watch the twists and turns unfold.
It is refreshing to see an adaptation of a young adult novel showcasing a diverse cast. It helps on the most elementary level because there are a handful of characters worth knowing. And yet the film does not rely on race in order to make us remember whose role is what and where one’s allegiance is placed. We get to know what makes Alby (Aml Ameen) a good leader beyond having a strong but not overbearing personality. We get to know what Minho makes a good Runner beyond being able to run fast and being observant. We get to know what makes Thomas the wildcard—the key element that threatens to overthrow a stable existence that has reached a dead end.
I wished, however, that Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the very first and only girl to be sent to the Glade, had been given more background. Unlike Alby, Minho, and Thomas, we do not get a real idea what makes her special—what specific characteristics or talents she has to offer that might help to establish herself as a critical fragment of the group.
Scenes that take place in the maze demand attention. Especially engaging are sequences where towering metallic structures move on their own and our protagonists are very close to becoming pancakes. Add massive spider-like creatures into the mix and one comes to appreciate an increasing sense of foreboding and danger.
Very close calls made me pull my limbs closer to my torso. At times I even found myself yelling instructions at the screen. It isn’t that the characters exercise bad judgment; it is because the thrills and suspense come hard and fast, left and right that I found myself unable to contain my excitement. Those who have a fear of tight spaces will absolutely get a kick out of this one.
There is a line or two in the film that claims everything is there for a reason in the maze. While certain revelations during the final fifteen minutes might not be convincing enough to some audiences, it worked for me because the answer(s) is not something I would have guessed. It sets up a promising sequel that is likely to feature an entirely new environment and set of challenges. Usually, I dislike attempts made to set up the next chapter. They are usually cheap, obvious, and tacky (Andrew Niccol’s “The Host” quickly comes to mind). Here, it is done with class and curiosity. I felt the protagonists’ emotional and physical exhaustion. But it does not mean they have nothing left to give. This series deserves to continue despite what box office numbers might imply.