“The Maze Runner” Movie Review

     "The Maze Runner" is yet another in a long line of young adult book to film adaptations hoping to capture the magic of some of the more successful franchises, namely "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight".  Rival studios are practically falling all over themselves while attempting to establish their own brand as a way of attracting younger film goers and their substantial buying power.  You need only examine the grosses of the first two "Hunger Games" films to understand why Hollywood continues to churn out these films, hoping to catch on with a story deemed worthy of several sequels.  "The Maze Runner" puts in motion nearly every attribute these types of pictures are normally required to have in order to connect with our younger generation.  Taking place in the requisite dystopian future ruled by nefarious adult antagonists, the film features the same clichéd good looking diverse teenage cast as the central characters in a story where they determine they will no longer accept their current circumstances and instead decide to push back against the establishment.  Essentially, every kid's mindset around that age.

     First time feature director Wes Ball, working from a screen play by T.S. Nowlin based on James Dashner's best selling novel, ensures "The Maze Runner" stays true to the standard tropes of the genre.  As was the case in "The Hunger Games", as well as this year's "Divergent", those in charge (the government)  have created a world in which certain classes of people are subjected to rules that seem to benefit those in the higher classes.  In the film's first scene, we see Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) being lifted in a metal freight elevator along with what appears to be various supplies.  He's discombobulated and has no idea who he is or where he is.  When the elevator reaches the top, he finds himself surrounded by other boys in a park like area called The Glade.  There, we are told, a group of boys has been living on their own for nearly 3 years with a new boy and supplies arriving each month.  Led by the boys who have been there the longest, the group has created a kind of hierarchy in which each has their own function within the society.  Some build living spaces, others farm and grow food.  Thomas is told by the group's leader, Alby (Aml Ameen), as well as the group's resident enforcer, Gally (Will Poulter), that each boy is expected to do his share, but they also inform him of perhaps the most important rule of all.

     The Glade is surrounded by tall concrete walls that keep the boys trapped within their confines.  During the daytime, a door opens which leads to an endless maze, seemingly functioning as an additional way to psychologically affect any thought the boys would have about leaving.  Within the group is a small unit referred to as "Maze Runners" who leave each day and explore the maze, presumably to someday find a way out.  They know; however, their exploration is limited to the daylight hours because when the sun goes down, the doors close, effectively trapping anyone still in the maze for the night.  It is said no one has survived the night, due mainly to bio-mechanical creatures called "Grievers" who patrol the maze for reasons unknown.  The Grievers themselves are a ghastly creation.  A deadly mix of a Skitter from "Falling Skies" crossed with one of the bugs from "Starship Troopers", each has a stinger that seems to infect its victims with a deadly virus.  Ball and his team have certainly succeeded in creating a frightening adversary, as there isn't a moment you don't think one of these things is gonna come crawling out of some hole and finish off one of our heroes in gruesome fashion.

     Thomas is the guy who immediately fights back against the situation these boys are in.  Though Gally continually enforces the rules which keep the boys in check, Thomas works to gain support through his actions and belief that there is a way out through the maze.  Perhaps The Glade is merely a metaphor for society's norms and the attitude young people have today in which they seemingly refuse to accept those norms and instead attempt to find a different way in achieving success as represented in this story by the Maze.  Watching these continual power struggles, as well as the introduction of endless, yet minimal clues throughout the first and second acts slowly becomes kind of a burden to watch.  You get the feeling there is some kind of puppet master pulling the strings, as if the whole scenario is not unlike the circumstances in "The Truman Show" and yet the third act and the film's conclusion gives the viewer nothing to chew on as it ends in a cliffhanger without really earning the right to do so.  The filmmakers assume the audience is willing to buy into a sequel and yet we're given nothing of substance to explain why and how these boys found themselves in this predicament in the first place.  We essentially know what Thomas knows and what he learns over the film's running time, leaving any sort of answer a mystery at its conclusion.

     This leaves any merit the film has to solely rely on the likability of the characters and the power of their performances.  For the most part, nothing sets them apart from the previously established YA types in other films and their life in The Glade isn't interesting enough to capture one's attention for the duration of a feature film.  This may be one of those films where the target audience may relate, but mainstream audiences will either roll their eyes or scratch their heads.  Ball is; however, more than capable of handling an action set piece, as several sequences in which the maze changes configuration as the Runners attempt to avoid being crushed or trapped gives the viewer a true sense of the peril they face.  These scenes do not make up for the abundance of questions the audience will be left with unanswered when a new character named Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) appears in the film's final scenes in an attempt to fill gaping plot holes about an organization called "W.C.K.D." and their apparent control over the events that have just occurred.  Perhaps the answers will come at this time next year when the film's sequel "The Scorch Trials" lures us to theaters for another round.  GRADE: C