“The Maze Runner,” our young heroes are doing their best to desperately escape a deadly labyrinth. By the end, will you be the one trying desperately to escape the theater? More importantly, how many instances of maze wordplay will I resort to in this review?
The answers are “no” and “a lot.”
The film begins with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) waking up in a strange elevator and emerging into the titular maze without any memory of how he got there. He meets several teenage boys who built a community inside a safe area of the maze. Thomas quickly impresses group leaders with new ideas of how to escape their situation, but not everyone is happy with the changes he suggests making. What follows is a Lord of Flies nightmare scenario where young men are jockeying for power while trying to decide whether to keep the status quo or to finally make a dangerous escape attempt.
The actors all navigate their way through strong performances, but O’Brien is the one who takes all the right turns, bringing a genuine, earnest, quality to his scenes that make it easy to root for him. Think Shia LaBeouf without all of the annoying qualities (you know, like the way he insists on always being Shia LaBeouf). This will easily be a star-making role for O’Brien, reminiscent to what “Hunger Games” was for Jennifer Lawrence.
The tone of the film is the next standout, as it is much darker than what most will expect from a movie aimed at teenagers. The danger here feels real and visceral and you never get the sense that happy endings are guaranteed for anyone.
There are scenes of genuine terror, so if you are looking for something to watch with kids this is a dead end.
Speaking of endings that is the only real complaint I have with “The Maze Runner.” The film builds up a lot of tension and suspense making you wonder why all of these boys are in this maze, who it was that imprisoned them, and why mostly Urban Outfitters models were selected, (okay, maybe not that last one), but when we finally reach the end, the answers we get are at times, laughable and at times indecipherable. Looks like we are going to have to wait for the rest of the trilogy to come to film.
“The Maze Runner” gets seven lab rats out of ten. They made it through, but no one gets any cheese.