Plot: Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up on an elevator of some sort, traveling at a rapid speed and disoriented, unable to remember even his own name. The life stops in a lush, green space, where he is surrounded by other young men, who welcome him and call him a greenie. It seems the lift has been bringing new arrivals and supplies for years and with time, he is assured he will remember some details about himself. He soon learns that this locale has all of them trapped and despite years of research and exploration, no exit can be found. The group has strict rules and is divided into squads, each with a unique purpose to serve the whole. But Thomas questions these rules and even makes some bold moves, unwilling to just accept that there’s no way out. As he clashes with some of those in the group, others seem to be inspired by his outlook, but is his hope just naivety, or will he be the one to lead them to freedom?
Entertainment Value: Based on the popular book series aimed at teens, The Maze Runner has a simple, but cloaked in mystery premise, one that turns to be a solid start for this franchise. I never read the books so I can’t comment on how faithful this movie is, but it jumps right into the concept and doesn’t burn much time on exposition, letting the narrative unspool in smaller doses. So at first, not much makes sense here, but soon the pieces start to fall into place and this incremental approach works, especially in the opening scenes. As this is the first installment in a series of movies, little is revealed in terms of the big picture, but the curtain is pulled back a little and in truth, this would work even as a open ended, self contained movie. The cliffhanger finale leads well into the next volume however, so it is an effective starting point for the series. I do think it runs a little long and is on the slow side at times, so a tighter focus would have been nice, given the basic narrative involved. Even so, the movie is solid and presents some nice world building and start to this franchise.
The movie is limited to a plot of green land for most of the duration, which bolsters the stifled, fenced in experience of the characters. I did appreciate that time was taken to examine the culture the young men had built, as it lets us see what their lives are like in normal conditions, which is cool. Once the maze is introduced, it is a welcome change of scenery and adds more tension, as well as kinetic action. But even within the maze, things feel cramped and confined, which again helps maintain the bleak, limited existence of the characters. The action scenes are limited, but provide some much needed energy to the movie, even if the CGI creatures are unremarkable. The cast is one of the film’s lesser points, as most of the performances are passable, but bland. Will Poulter is the standout and is the source of most of the conflict, but Dylan O’Brien is forgettable and just doesn’t deliver the protagonist the movie needs. In the end, The Maze Runner is a solid movie and better than I expected, but is hurt by a lackluster cast and bloated run time. Even so, fans of the book series or simple, but passable sci/fi stories should find enough to like here.