The Maze Runner Full Movie Directed by Wes Ball; Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Mal Ameen, Ki Hong Lee. 12A cert, 113 mins.
Hollywood’s sudden fixation on the young-adult market is all the more fascinating when you consider for the last decade or two, their most highly prized audience has been children in their 20s and 30s.
After years of under-thinking science-fiction and fantasy, suddenly over-thinking, or at least thinking, is in. The scorched landscapes are much the same as they ever were, but the stories playing out across them yield an emotional, as well as visceral, rush. Twilight, for all the sneering it engenders, was the first to find the target. Then The Hunger Games’ leveled its crossbow and struck the bullseye.
Next to take goal is The Maze Runner, a lean, urgent adaptation of the first book in an ongoing series by James Dashner, and as someone who hasn’t read any of the novels but was compelled from the get-go, it looks like another hit.
Like The Hunger Games‘s Katniss Everdeen or Divergent’s Tris Prior, this is a film about young people slowly realizing they’re caught between the gearwheels of a system they didn’t build and don’t want to maintain.
The would-be revolutionaries are a group of young boys who reside in a glade at the heart of a giant maze – the kind of fiendish, spiraling thing Christopher Nolan might doodle on a napkin. None knows why they’re there, or what lies beyond the maze’s walls, which shift at night after the entrances automatically grind shut.
But then, 16-year-old Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien, from the MTV series Teen Wolf) comes to the camp through a rusty service elevator. Like the other inmates, his memories have been wiped, but after sizing up the situation, he becomes determined to find out the maze’s purpose and, in doing so, lead the quest for freedom.
Some of the boys, led by the bullish, glowering Gally (played by Will Poulter), show no interest. They’ve learned to live alongside the maze, and stay out of it after darkness falls, while biomechanical, scorpion-like scavengers called “grievers” prowl its corridors. They aren’t going anywhere, and they’ve made peace with that.
There are superficial hints of Lord of the Flies here, but the real villain is the maze itself. It compels the boys to either participate in the system on the system’s own terms, or else be like Gally and his gang, and sit things out entirely. Change isn’t an option on the table; it’s something that has to be fought for. It’s a premise that seems likely to strike a chord.
The first-time director, Wes Ball, is a visual effects artist by trade, but he makes good on the plot’s wildly intriguing, if totally artificial, premise. In much the same cryptic style as the television series Lost, the film lays a perfectly spaced breadcrumb-trail of clues – a strange slogan on a crate here, a stranger sequence of numbers there – though unlike Lost, everything ties up more or less coherently, with a heavy side-order of sequel-teasing.
But Ball has the advantage of a likeable (and oddly British) supporting cast to sell the concept: in addition to Poulter, there’s Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, a teenage girl who appears mysteriously in the camp one morning, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, from Game of Thrones, who plays Newt, the colony’s waifish second-in-command.
The action scenes aren’t quite well-organized: a close-up encounter with a dead griever, oozing slime and crusted over with rust, is so vividly realized that you wish some prosthetic models had been used in the busy combat scenes, together with the mandatory CGI.
But for the most part, The Maze Runner film is rough and tactile, and draws you deep into its puzzle-box world. Behind the far-fetched window-dressing, this is a tale about what it means to be a teenager, lying awake at night frightening with fear and figuring out your escape, while the world rumbles and reforms itself around you.