Here’s the problem with the rise in popularity of turning young adult books into films: They all start running together. With all of the main characters either living in some kind of dystopia or in the modern day but experiencing something tragic, you could be forgiven for skipping the umpteenth iteration of those themes.
Despite its similarities to other movies, though, you should make time for The Maze Runner. It follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who’s unceremoniously dropped — actually, lifted in an elevator — into woods surrounded by nearly impenetrable walls.
The mystery of the circumstances in which the characters find themselves is what sustains the movie for most of its running time.
He joins a large number of other young men who, having gone through the same experience, were forced to band together and fend for themselves. Their only chance for escape is through a maze that opens up every morning, with its configuration changing overnight. Can Thomas be the one who finally leads them to salvation?
The mystery of the circumstances in which Thomas and the others find themselves is what sustains the movie for most of its running time. Who put them there, why they allow them to explore the maze during the day yet shut it off at night, and other questions are interesting enough to propel the film forward.
The other key element to the film’s success is the interaction between the boys. For a while, it’s kind of the opposite of The Lord of the Flies, in that harmony seems to exist for the betterment of all. The way each of them takes on a certain role while still maintaining his individual personality makes for an exciting dynamic.
The film’s biggest downfall is something that its filmmakers can’t control: the fact that this is just the first story in — you guessed it — a trilogy. The film ends on a major cliffhanger that would make for an epic bummer if the powers that be decided not to move forward with the rest of the series; fortunately, that’s not the case. But a film that can’t stand on its own as an unqualified success indicates that things could’ve been done better.
O’Brien, currently playing second fiddle on MTV’s Teen Wolf, breaks out in a big way here. He has the confidence and charm to make for a great leading man for years to come. Strong supporting turns from the likes of Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee and Aml Ameen show that the casting director deserves much credit.
Whether the future films in the series have the same quality remains to be seen, but The Maze Runner is a film that deserves to be experienced even if you think you’ve had enough of young adult dystopia.