The Maze Runner

There's no David Bowie at the center of this labyrinth.

There’s no David Bowie at the center of this labyrinth.

(2014) Science Fiction (20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Kara Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Dexter Darden, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, Don McManus, Michael Bow, Jerry Clark, Gary Hood, Nick Killebrew. Directed by Wes Ball

We generally have a good sense of where we are and who we are. When we wake up in the morning, we know we are in familiar territory, where we’re supposed to be. But what if you woke up one morning and didn’t have a clue where you were – or even your own name?

But that’s what happens to each and every boy in the strange place they call the Glade. A grassy knoll with a small forest surrounded by huge walls, every month without fail an elevator brings up a new arrival and supplies. What doesn’t come up the elevator they grow. It’s a fairly pastoral life. When the boys – and they’re all boys – wake up, they have no memory of who they are, where they are or where they came from. They’re just there. After a day or two, they remember their first name, but that’s all.

This month’s new arrival is Thomas (O’Brien). He is given the lay of the land by Alby (Ameen), the charismatic leader of the boys. Thomas is a curious sort. What’s beyond the walls? The maze. Why don’t you just leave? We can’t. Why not? There are monsters. They’re called Grievers. Nobody who spends the night in the maze survives. Is there a way out? We’re looking for it. We send runners into the maze every day to map it out. We haven’t found the exit yet but we will. How long have you been looking? Three years.

Thomas is befriended by Chuck (Cooper), a younger heavyset boy, and Newt (Brodie-Sangster), a quiet British chap. There’s also Gally (Poulter), a by-the-book sort who detests change and lives in justified fear of what’s out there, and Minho (Lee), the leader of the runners who comes to a grudging respect for Thomas who seems to be a born leader. But who put them there and why?

This is based on the classic James Dashner young adult sci-fi epic, the first of several books in a series. It’s one of those books that, like the TV series Lost always winds up generating a lot of questions and for every question it answers raises two or more new ones in its place.

Definitely meant to appeal to young adolescent boys in the same way Twilight and The Hunger Games appeals to young adolescent girls, in Thomas we have a taciturn, curious and brave young man. Teen Wolf star O’Brien plays him with a kind of blank expression most of the time, pulling out grief and rage when the occasion calls for it. I don’t know if it’s a sign of limited range or that range wasn’t called for here; it left me a little bit cold for the character.

Most of the support is all right, particularly Poulter playing a very different character than his geeky kid in We’re the Millers. Patricia Clarkson stops by for a cup of coffee near the end and Brodie-Sangster is effective as Newt. Scodelario who is the only female with any appreciable screen time seems to have been cast mainly for her resemblance to Kristen Stewart and Lee is actually pretty good as a kind of junior John Cho.

Cooper comes off with the most promise as a more likable version of Chunk from The Goonies. Chuck has a certain hero-worship for Thomas but is capable of standing on his own two feet. Chuck is loyal to a fault and may not have the physical presence of Thomas but has his back unconditionally. Miller captured all of that and in many ways was much more interesting than O’Brien. I’d much rather have spent more time with Chuck than with the more conventional hero Thomas.

The Grievers are nightmarish, a kind of biotech weapon that is part machine and part creature, spiders with silver legs and many, many teeth. They also have stingers that inject a venom into their victims that drives them violently made, wreaking further havoc. The easily impressionable who are prone to nightmares should think twice about seeing this one.

I left characterizing this as a kind of Lord of the Flies with hints of Lost and Divergent thrown in for good measure and that’s as much hint about the rest of the story as I’m willing to give. There is plenty of CGI, most of it okay but none of it really awe-inspiring.

The ending is pretty much there to set up a sequel (which has already been greenlit based on this film’s successful first weekend). There really isn’t any feeling of a conclusion and so I left the theater curiously unsatisfied. I would need another movie to allow me feel like I’d actually seen a complete movie beginning to end.

REASONS TO GO: Genuinely scary monsters. Some good supporting performances. Definitely for those who wanted to see Lord of the Flies done by the Lost creative team.
REASONS TO STAY: O’Brien is a bit wooden. Unsatisfying ending.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence and some foul language. The Grievers are pretty nightmare-inducing as well.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth movie in which Judd and Freeman have appeared together in.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/9/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Divergent
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Definitely Maybe!

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