Set in a dystopian future (that old chestnut!) and based on the YA book of the same name (yes, another one!), The Maze Runner centers on a young man named Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who’s been mysteriously jettisoned via subterranean elevator to a completely walled community – called The Glade – of other boys, all of whom arrived with their memories erased. The Glade is all green and lush and very LOST-y, but surrounding it are four enormous stone walls, behind which lies an enormous stone maze. One that shifts and changes so that its patterns are never the same. And one that’s home to savage beasties called “Grievers,” which look like a horde of arachnid babies spawned when an Alien mated with a Terminator.
During the day, one wall around the Glade opens and the maze is accessible; at night, that open gap thunders shut, and anyone still in the maze becomes Griever food.
But Thomas is Different. He’s Curious. He’s a Rebel. He doesn’t understand some of the rules long-ago established by some of the group’s original members (Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter) and, faster than you can say “hey! don’t go in there!”, he’s off and running.
What follows is a lot more of the same, as Thomas and other spry young lads make their way into, out of, back into and all through the various chambers and hallways of the maze in a bid to find a way out. But how did they all get to the Glade? Who put them there? Why? What does it mean when the elevator spits out a girl (Kaya Scodelario), along with a note alerting the fellas that she’ll be “the last one ever”? And how is Patricia Clarkson connected to it all?
There are plenty of mysteries in The Maze Runner but, because this is the first film in a would-be series, the filmmakers don’t answer very many of them by the time the closing credits roll. There are tiny hints of explanation sprinkled here and there, and anyone who’s read the books will no doubt know where everything is headed but, for me, it was kind of irritating to spend nearly two hours following these characters only to reach film’s end and find out… not much, really. Worse, I didn’t feel any desire to see a follow-up film if one makes it to screens eventually.
Likely due, again, to the fact that Runner serves as an introduction to a bigger picture, the characters don’t feel quite fully developed. Thomas is fleshed out, but the rest feel more like sketches – the brute (Poulter), the leader (Brodie-Sangster), the jock (Ki Hong Lee), the cute chubby kid (Blake Cooper). And the lone girl among them probably draws the shortest straw of them all, with a role that seems to consist largely of opening her eyes really wide and not saying much.
The action in the film does move along at a nice clip, and the effects – especially those pertaining to the maze – are pretty cool, but many of the chase and fight sequences are edited so frenetically as to render them indecipherable. Like everything else about the film, it’s one step forward, one back, one forward, one back… which is why its rating lands squarely in the middle.
The Digital HD option gives you plenty of special features to chew on when exploring this Maze. There is the usual feature length commentary by director Wes Ball, plus a quite interesting 5-part behind-the-scenes series of featurettes called “Navigating The Maze: The Making of The Maze Runner”(totaling over 40 minutes) on the making of the film–from the imagination-bending world of the best-seller book to the big screen. There is a half hour reel featuring the visual effects for the film, plus deleted scenes, and of course the requisite gag reel. One of the more intriguing extras is director Wes Ball’s short film “Ruin”, which has the impressively realistic animation and action, reminding me of the latest super-high-quality video games. The setting is a post-apocalyptic urban jungle (literally overgrown skyscrapers) where a gritty street kid jumps on a motorcycle to out-race tracking robot drones. The setup is very action-cinematic, and helped Ball get the job to helm The Maze Runner (I can see why).