It’s pretty nice that, in general, young adult novels are casting relative unknowns when they decide to bring the story to the big screen. Sure, a lot of the adult roles in these films are filled with familiar and veteran actor faces, but the roles of the youth are left to be filled by faces people haven’t yet equated with other character roles, which is nice because it leaves the film fresh and fans of the book series happy and reserving judgement over casting choices. And while two of the lead actors have been in recognizable films and TV shows, The Maze Runner benefits from their fresh presence onscreen.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in an elevator on its way to who knows where with no memory of who he is, where he is, and how he came to be there. He doesn’t even know his own name, at least not until later. When the elevator ride ends, Thomas is met with Alby (Aml Ameen), the leader of a group of what can only really be compared to the lost boys of Neverland. Except they’re in a place called the Glade, a massive courtyard-looking place that’s large in size, filled with greenery, an always shining sun, and surrounded by massive stone walls that open every morning and close every night, like clockwork.

Outside of the walls lies a maze, and dangerous creepers called Grievers. A maze that, after three years, the Runners–who are designated to map out the maze and figure a way out–haven’t figured out. Thomas, Alby, and the others (which include Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, and Ki Hong Lee), must figure out a way to get free of the maze and back into a world they don’t remember, but it’s not easy. And after Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives in the Glade, and the only girl to ever show up there, everything goes from bad to worse because she brings a message with her: She’s the last person to ever arrive again with a promise that everything will change.

This year has promised us dystopian societies and dystopian societies is what we’re getting. From Divergent to The Giver and later this year, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, the pool of young adult novels with similar settings being turned into movies is getting a bit populated. Nonetheless, The Maze Runner has enough suspense, a darker setting and mood, and mystery to keep you entertained for the almost two-hour run time. The young actors are pretty good in their roles, even if some of their characters aren’t as expanded on as they are in the book.

The most recognizable of them all is most obviously Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who will forever be known as the kid from Love Actually. I actually wish he, along with Kaya Scodelario and Aml Ameen, had gotten more to do than just being relegated to exposition duty though. Certain characters lose some of their characteristics, are a little less crazy or warped, and certain scenes a little less dark, but for a movie that manages to pack a lot of things in under two hours it’s a good effort, given the fact that the book has a lot going on in terms of the mystery solving.

The maze itself is by far the best part of the film. Its design and dark interior really amp up the creepy factor and help to lend to the dark tone of the film. All the best scenes happen in the maze, and although the Grievers are not as disgusting or as scary as they are described in the book, their attack on the boys within the mysterious labyrinth gives the film an edge that many other films in this genre have often lacked.

The Maze Runner is fast-paced, has some good suspenseful moments, and is loyal to the overall story of the book. You don’t have to have read the novel to make sense of what’s going on and the tone is definitely darker, so while it’s not on the level of The Hunger Games, it’s probably the closest comparison for this genre. Some creative liberties are taken for the benefit of the audience and they’re not necessarily bad changes, though there could have been a bit more character development and a bit more information here and there to deepen the mystery. The ending is a bit lacking and gives a bit too much away in teasing a possible sequel, but at least the film is above average and decently executed in comparison to some other young adult novel adaptations that have come out in the last couple of years.

Release Date: September 19, 2014 | Director: Wes Ball | Screenwriters: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin | Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Chris Sheffield | Genre: Action, Mystery | MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images

 

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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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