“You’re not like the others.” If there exists a Mad Libs for YA adaptations, that quote is pretty much a permanent fixture; at least as far back as the Harry Potter films, every one of these sagas (from “Hunger Games” to “Divergent” to “The Giver”) revolves around The Photogenic Messiah, the unique young boy who’s better, stronger, smarter, faster, and who ends up saving the world and getting the girl/boy.
That last part isn’t exactly right for The Maze Runner case, because there’s only one girl for our hero Thomas (none other than Dylan O’Brien, MTV’s “Teen Wolf”) to fall in love with, and both of them are too busy battling amnesia and monsters to make goo-goo eyes at each other. (There are plenty of boys, of course, but that’s a can of worms this movie isn’t about to open.)
Thomas wakes up in a noisy (the Dolby sound effect is bowel-rattling) freight elevator, hurtling toward a strange destination that turns out to be The Glade, a mysterious encampment populated by a multi-ethnic group of male teenagers who have been living there for three years. Like Thomas, none of them remember how they got there, or what their lives were before they arrived.
They grow their own food, raise their own livestock and maintain their own system of government (under the wise and rational eye of older teen Alby, played by Aml Ameen), because there’s no way to escape.
The Glade is surrounded by a huge labyrinth, the internal walls of which vary around every day, making figuring out of the maze next to impossible, in spite of the best efforts of the “runners,” the community’s strongest and fastest, who race through the maze every day and make sure to be out before nightfall. This maze is also inhabited by “grievers,” terrifying giant scorpion-like creatures that seem to be part organic and part robot.
In true Photogenic Messiah form, Thomas instantly starts upsetting the apple cart; one of the runners, stung by a griever, assaults Thomas and babbles insanely that all of this is Thomas’ fault. Thomas manages to be the first inhabitant ever of the Glade to kill a griever, which leads to a quick and terrifying reprisal. Then the elevator returns, bearing a girl for the first time: Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, “Skins”), clutching a note saying that she is the last shipment.
Who put these teens here, and for what purpose? It’s an intriguing premise, at first anyway, in Noah Oppenheim and Grant Pierce Myers’ adaptation of the novel by James Dashner. But the more we learn about Thomas and Teresa’s mutual nightmarish memories, and the closer the film gets to its requisite “to be continued” climax, the less intriguing it all appears.
The Maze Runner has “Lord of the Flies” (stripped of all socio-political context) and even a bit of “The Cabin in the Woods” in its core, but the progression of the storyline drags it toward becoming just another YA adaptation. (Is it even considered a spoiler to say that there’s an apocalypse involved?)
You definitely have to give props to casting director Denise Chamian for making the inhabitants of the Glade such a diverse and interesting group — we’re forced to encounter a lot of characters at once, but the film smartly casts young actors with interesting faces (namely Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter, Blake Cooper) who register fast and then hold our attention throughout the movie.