On the surface, it seems like yet-another-young-adult-adaptation. Once again, we have “kids” thrown into adult situations because society is dysfunctional. The Maze Runner’s premise does sound similar to The Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games but this sci-fi adventure movie differentiates itself through its use of metaphors and allegories.
A young adult (a male lead this time) wakes up in an unfamiliar large expanse (they call it The Glade) surrounded by high, intimidating walls made of concrete. He has forgotten everything but his name and he is now trapped in said glade with a bunch of other boys. Sounds like a recipe for trouble, but things are noticeably different.
For one, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is curious, sensible, and assertive. Instead of being reluctant and hesitant like his contemporary literary counterparts, our hero demands answers. Fifteen minutes into the film, the basic cards are all on the table thanks to expositions of Alby (played by Aml Ameen), Newt (played by Thomas Sangster), and Gally (played by Will Poulter).
It is refreshing to take the point of view of a character who explores. We imagine that waking up with no memories is a frightening experience but Thomas does not seem perturbed or if he is, he handles it by acquiring new knowledge and digesting it. He is particularly skeptical of what he is told about what lies beyond the walls: the actual maze from the title. What goes on in there? Who built it? Is it the way out? What the hell are Grievers?
You don’t need to have read the book to feel more than a little curious to find the answers and because Thomas is asking the same questions, his actions gratify the audience. We all want to know what’s happening and thankfully, our hero is surrounded by people who help him get the answers.
Unlike the previously listed works of the same mold, the boys from The Glades overcame the chaos of dystopia. There’s harmony in their little community and they seem to be happily trapped. Thomas finds this odd and he becomes increasingly obsessed with escaping this haven. The other boys don’t share his enthusiasm for freedom, giving the film a very frightening undercurrent.
The maze is beautifully designed and the chase sequences in it are exhilarating but director Wes Ball did not forget to include parts of the book that helped it become a bestseller. As the conflict between Thomas and Gally deepens, the movie subliminally asks the audience: What does survival mean? The screenplay by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin dares to ask this question without being too blunt or boring.
It’s amazing that this film is based on a book intended for younger audiences because shades of George Orwell’s 1984 are everywhere and the characters are surprisingly, for a lack of a better term, written maturely. We can’t give too much away but we find Thomas a balmy alternative to goody-good-goods who are born with the save-the-world gene. He is simply curious at best…and it’s pleasant to see a book and a movie that promotes this underrated trait.
Of course, The Maze Runner is not without its flaws. It does not look as sleek and polished as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the actors aren’t particularly cute, it’s a little predictable, and the annoying shaky cam in the dark strikes again. Surely there’s a way to convey action without having to make the audience nauseous.
Those pedantic concerns aside, the movie is both entertaining and intelligent. The narrative moves along fast enough to sustain interest and the dialogue, though stiff at times, has substance. Yes, we have heard this story before, but when it is told with passion, an old plot sounds new.
The Maze Runner offers a thrilling quest for the truth and perhaps even justice. It challenges the audience to think about their own glades and wonder if they’ve passively accepted covert imprisonment, because freedom sounds frightening. Do watch out for more metaphors, symbols, and allegories in the movie, which will open in cinemas starting September 17.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.