<i>Maze Runner</i> Not the Most Novel Dystopian Tale

Christian Hamaker

DVD Release Date: December 16, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: September 19, 2014
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
Genre: Action
Run Time: 113 min.
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario

The summer's over, but the dystopian movies aimed at teens keep coming. Those who missed Divergent and The Giver can take a crack at The Maze Runner, based, like those other two stories, on a book (by James Dashner).

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, The Internship) wakes up in a moving freight elevator that deposits him in the Glade—a working community populated by other teen boys and bound by a looming labyrinth that shifts every night. Thomas can't remember his name at first, but it soon comes to him. His other memories have been wiped clean, as they have for the rest of the Glade's inhabitants.

No one is sure why they're stuck in the Glade, although most have settled into daily routines. Their functional existence is upset mainly by the periodic arrival of new boys, whose panicked adjustment to life in captivity provide some measure of entertainment for longtime residents like Albie (Aml Ameen), who was first to arrive in the Glade.

Albie is also one of the faster boys who scope out the moving maze that prevents the boys from trying to escape. They daily enter the maze and try to map a way to freedom, knowing they must make it back to the Glade before the maze seals them in for the night. If they get stuck, they have to survive a night battling the Grievers, giant spider-like beings that can inflict lethal stings or more immediately fatal forms of execution.

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The dynamic among the members of the Glade has a familiar ring. Gally (Will Poulter, who played Eustace in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) leads the boys who want nothing to do with attempts to escape from the Glade. They've established order and rules, and are content to live out their time in captivity without the risks that come with trying to escape. "First he breaks our rules, now he wants us to abandon them!" Gally complains about Thomas. But Thomas isn't having it. Eager to break out of his confines and learn answers about why he was sent to the Glade, he recruits a few key allies and sparks a desire among some of the more passive residents for a better life.

The Maze Runner isn't original, but it's also not dreary. It plods along in predictable but painless fashion, coming to life during the special-effects-driven fights against the Grievers. While overextended battle scenes are often the downfall of today's action movies, the fights in The Maze Runner have a palpable sense of danger. The Grievers are nasty, many-limbed creatures that move quickly—but not so quickly that the action scenes are incoherent. These battles give a shot of energy to a film that, until that point, is too often static and lacking in interest, if not outright dull.

There's nothing The Maze Runner offers that hasn't already been done, often more effectively, but it's a competent film that, in its second half, grows exciting during certain stretches. That may be enough for younger viewers who haven't yet been saturated with these dystopian tales, and who can handle the intensity of the segments that helped earn the film its PG-13 rating. Older viewers will likely be less impressed, or even bored, by a story that feels too often like a retread than a fresh take on familiar material.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

Publication date: September 18, 2014

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