Every 30 days, a new boy arrives via underground elevator into a forested enclosure surrounded by an ominously massive stone maze. With no memory of their past, the escalating number of youths must attempt to thrive and uncover the secrets of their seemingly inescapable prison. It’s a truly fascinating premise that mixes elements of “The Lord of the Flies” with “The Hunger Games” and, despite also employing the overused amnesia setup, still manages to feel wholly original. In fact, the complex foundation is steeped in such mystery that one can predict halfway through watching the film that the majority of questions will remain unanswered until a later installment in the series.
Emerging into “The Glade” with the recollection of nothing but his name, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is quickly thrown into a desperate bid for survival. Joining the brotherhood of the numerous other boys who surfaced in the mysterious clearing before him, Thomas learns of their strange plight: a colossal automated labyrinth encompasses them on all sides. It holds them captive in the day with its shifting walls, but closes at night to protect them from the “grievers,” shadowy monstrosities that roam the unforgiving passageways. When the group’s leader, Alby (Aml Ameen), heads into the maze with Minho (Ki Hong Lee) but fails to return before sundown, Thomas fearlessly enters the treacherous corridors to save them both – and sets into motion a chain of events that will reveal the secrets of the granite network and alter their lives forever.
Though it may deter some potential viewers, “The Maze Runner” adopts an extremely serious tone. When death is always looming on the horizon for the adolescent protagonists, the suspense and tension remain high. The intricate prison continually casts an oppressive despondency upon its hostages, the Orwellian social hierarchy and subsequent distrust and infighting cause additional strains, and the vicious beasts thwarting any chance at a hegira blankets more hopelessness upon the detainees. And that doesn’t even begin to reveal the alarming reasons for the youths’ tribulations. It’s compelling, baffling, and very bleak – but it also attains an edgily austere level of entertainment that comparable survival examinations can’t reach.
Clearly being the first in a hopeful franchise plagues “The Maze Runner,” as it does most origin movies, but the rapid-fire pacing ushers the adventure along while the enigmatic environment perpetually intrigues. The youthful cast all turn in competent performances and though comparisons to “The Hunger Games,” “The Host,” and “Divergent” (among others) will undoubtedly surface, the survival-only atmosphere, with its absence of televised theatrics and disruptive costuming, offers a more sincere experience. The complete omission of any “Twilight”-reminiscent teen love triangles is also imperative to its veracity.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)