It probably helped that I went into The Maze Runner with no clue to its plot besides "The Hunger Games for boys". While that moniker may ring true, I found myself enjoying almost every minute of the dystopian YA adaptation, much of those minutes spent on the edge of my seat.
The Maze Runner, originally written by James Dashner in 2007, follows a dystopian society of boys living in The Glade (apparently the uniform is a dirty henley), a survivalist environment surrounded by a giant maze. This is the situation our protagonist Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) gets thrown into with no memories of his past life. The boys must figure out a way to escape the maze, and when Thomas shows signs of being different than the rest, he becomes both heralded and targeted. Suspicions grow when a girl (Kaya Scodelario) enters the mix and seems to recognize Thomas. As Thomas begins to push the boundaries to satisfy his curiosity, their time to escape starts dwindling and finding a way out becomes a priority.
Since we follow the film from Thomas's perspective, we are thrown into the same confusion and bewilderment Thomas encounters as he learns the societal rules of The Glade. Since I haven't read the novel, I spent each moment of the film hanging on every word of dialogue and every wide shot, trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Who were these boys? Why were they chosen for The Glade? Most importantly, who put them there?! We learn that everyone's memory was wiped and that a few boys (called Runners) go and map the maze every day before it closes. If you get trapped in the maze, you never survive because the Grievers get you.
But like I said, Thomas is different. He's brave to the point of stupidity and not only spends a night in the maze without dying but manages to kill a Griever (horrible monsters that are part-robot and part-weird-flesh-things). The best word to describe the film is thrilling "“ if you're not worried about the politics of the group of boys, you're worried Thomas is about to die by Griever attack. The action and pace never slows and the 113 minutes fly by before you know it.
Additionally, O'Brien shines as Thomas. O'Brien, with those ridiculous cheekbones, conveys that mix of bravery, fear, and confusion that makes you root for Thomas. He's lean and awkward enough that he's certainly no Hercules but that just makes him more relatable. I appreciated that they kept the cast to relative unknowns (unless you watch Teen Wolf or the British series Skins) because it allows the audience to fully submerge themselves into these characters without the actor's personality encroaching too much.
All of that said, there are a lot of similarities to The Hunger Games. As the film propels forward, you learn that there's actually a large, complicated world outside the maze and the third act of the film builds to the eventual sequel. It's disappointing. As much as I love dystopian YA film franchises, they've all shown their weakness to be in the second and third books. A great first premise followed by an inability to sufficiently answer the questions they themselves propose. The third act of the film, as it builds to a "cliffhanger" for the sequel, was the most disappointing part of the film. While the first two acts had me on the edge of my seat, the third was relaxed because I knew exactly what was going to happen. The gang escapes only to find some big bad is introduced and set up for future adventures.
Still, The Maze Runner is a fun, action-packed, thrilling ride. It has good performances from its cast and good direction (loved the jerky, sometimes off-kilter camera work that mirrored Thomas's confusion). I was surprised and impressed with how much I enjoyed it and even though the final part was lackluster, you can bet I'll be watching the sequel.