THE MAZERUNNER, based on the best-selling young-adult novel by James Dashner, makes a satisfying transition to the big screen. If some of the characters are a bit underwritten, never fear, there is a sequel built in to the storytelling with the promise of more depth. As for the film at hand, its thumping good adventure story with a dash of Kafka, a soupcon of Lord of the Flies, and maybe just a whiff of something from either the Heros Journey as told by Joseph Campbell, or a nod to the theological. An unlikely mix, but one that works thanks to an imaginative plot, fine acting, and even better direction.
We in the audience are introduces to the maze along with Thomas (Dylan OBrien), an adolescent who wakes up in The Glade with no memory of even his name (that comes later), and no idea why hes there. Taken in hand by Alby (Ami Ameen), he learns that the maze is a dangerous place where only Runners are allowed, and never after dark. No one, as several people intone solemnly, has ever gone into the maze at night and returned to tell the tale. Nor have any who have encountered The Grievers, the stinging creatures that mean certain death if then get their venom into you. Thomas is making nice progress adjusting to his new circumstance, despite having run afoul of Gally (Will Poulter), the stickler for rules and Glade wrestling champion. Wrestling is the only form of aggression allowed in The Glade, and when Thomas unexpectedly bests Gally, the one-sided antagonism between the two becomes set in stone. Its a situation that only gets worse when the ordinary routine of life in The Glade is disrupted, first by The Grievers suddenly start attacking during the day, and the monthly box of supplies, the which delivered Thomas as well as all the other boys who find themselves in The Glade, appears too soon, and carrying a cargo of a girl, Teresa (Kay Scodelario). As if that werent disconcerting enough, Teresa has a note in her hand saying that this is the last time.
There is a wonderfully tantalizing mystery at the center of the story, and equally tantalizing clues are scattered throughout, including that odd stencil on the barrel that brings Thomas to The Glade. It, and the word it seems to spell out, will reappear as the film progresses. So will the growing antagonism between Thomas and Gally, which becomes the tug between security and stagnation, and risk and reward, with Gally spouting the letter of the groups rules as Thomas breaks them. That Thomas is also making headway in solving the mystery of why they are there doesnt figure into Galleys way of thinking, an attitude that ossifies predictably into a fanatical orthodoxy. As comic relief to all this, there is the youngest member of the group, Chuck (Blake Cooper) chubby, cute, and curly-haired, he is the cherub who inspires everyones protective instincts.
The action as Thomas braves the maze is well-paced and suspenseful, as The Grievers make their creepy, multi-legged, vaguely ALIEN-inspired appearance, and Thomas becomes the first Glader to survive an attack by same. He also becomes, and this is hardly a spoiler, the first person to survive a night in the maze. How he ended up there, after being told it was forbidden to him, is the result of a consistent altruism that puts compassion above rules or even regard for personal safety. And thats the element that distinguishes this flick. There is an underlying clash of philosophies that is as compelling in its all but subliminal presentation as the dashes through the maze, and the revelations, which come thick and fast and always as a surprise, about what the mazes ultimate purpose is.
THE MAZERUNNER is a smart film for young adults and their parents that respects the intelligence of each age group. There are one or two clichés, but its easy to forgive them. And its easy to look forward to the sequel.