The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Maze Runner

I confess feeling a certain amount of weariness going into The Maze Runner. The prospect of another adaptation of a young adult novel about teenagers in a dystopian future uncovering a larger-than-they-initially-suspect conspiracy didn't exactly fill me with hope. Based on the best-seller by James Dashner, the movie follows the formula, which is rapidly becoming cliché, to the letter. The bad news is that this is not the next Hunger Games. The good news is that it's no Divergent either.

The story opens with a teenage boy named Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) abruptly waking up in an elevator that's rising to an unknown destination. He has no memory of anything, no clue how he got there. When the doors open, he finds himself in “the Glade.” It is a large field with a patch of forest in one corner. It is also surrounded by massive walls, beyond which lies a dense and seemingly impenetrable maze. Inside the Glade are a bunch of other boys. They've been trapped there for years, having formed a highly-structured society to keep themselves safe. One of them, Gally (We're the Millers' Will Poulter), is the self-appointed guardian of the rules. Only by following protocol, he insists, can everyone survive. Other boys, called “runners,” go out exploring every day during the time when those walls crack open a little bit. Booby-traps are everywhere in the maze, as are deadly creatures known as “Grievers.” Thomas has no intention of staying in the Glade. He wants to go into the maze in search of a way out and, possibly, an answer as to why they're all there. Gally doesn't approve, but things reach a head when the first-ever girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) shows up.

The big thing The Maze Runner has going for it is a killer hook. The “kids fighting for survival” thing takes a page (or two, or three) out of the Hunger Games playbook, but the concept of a giant maze is fresh. It is no spoiler to say that Thomas does indeed enter it, only to discover one hazard after another lurking around every corner. This allows for some really fun action sequences as he attempts to survive Grievers and the maze's seeming ability to alter itself, among other things. If you've ever done one of those corn mazes that pop up every October, you know how disorienting it can be to find your way through something labyrinthine. The movie capitalizes on that idea by trapping Thomas and the others inside, directionless and frantically attempting to outrun danger. They are quite literally human lab rats. Director Wes Ball stages these sequences briskly, maximizing the looming peril for all its worth.

Scenes inside the Glade are also interesting. The Maze Runner spends a fair chunk of time exploring the society these boys have built, as well as the way Thomas subverts it by having the bravery to suggest that they not simply accept their fate. Dylan O'Brien (MTV's Teen Wolf) is terrific in the role of Thomas. He's believable as an intense young man who isn't going to go down without a fight. The supporting players, especially Poulter, are also strong. There's intriguing chemistry between the characters they create, particularly in scenes where they're debating the risks associated with exploring the maze.

The only real issue with the film comes from the source material. This is formulaic stuff through and through. The Maze Runner, as The Hunger Games and Divergent did, ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, suggesting that everything just depicted is only a small part of a much larger deal with serious societal implications. Why can't these books/movies just tell a simple story? The need to add large conspiracy issues is growing tiresome. The Hunger Games pictures (so far, at least) have managed to pull it off with intelligence and class. Divergent, on the other hand, was dopey and contrived. The Maze Runner falls somewhere in the middle. What's beyond the maze may or may not prove compelling when the inevitable sequels roll around. What's in the maze – and in this movie – is at least entertaining enough to merit the investment of two hours.

( out of four)

The Maze Runner is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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