I admit that I walked into the theater to watch The Maze Runner
having done very little of my homework. Before the marketing campaign for the film began I hadn’t read, much less heard, of the Young Adults novel
(of the same name and written by James Dashner
) from which the film is adapted. All I really knew was that it was the usual dystopian fantasy in line with The Hunger Games
books and films that has spawned numerous sequels and involved brave young kids fighting insidious, shady establishments. I also knew that The Maze Runner had mostly boys as main characters.
Imagine then my dismay when the opening scenes of the film start off with, well, boys behaving like frat boys, as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in “The Glade”, a large grassy arena surrounded by a deadly maze and is more or less hazed by the other boys who have been there longer (some up to 3 years under equally mysterious circumstances) and struggles to remember his name.
Thankfully, the film becomes a great deal more nuanced after this initial clumsy introduction, with truly memorable characters coming into light, including the chubby and quite adorable Blake Cooper as the wide-eyed vulnerable Chuck; Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, a sensible young British boy who is the voice of reason throughout; Ki Hong Lee as the quiet but deadly precise Minho, one of the few boys willing to run the maze during the day to try and map it; and Aml Ameen as Alby, the leader of the “Gladers” and the heroic boy who has been there the longest and struggled to keep everyone together.
If all of this sounds a bit Lord of the Flies to you, you wouldn’t be too far off. Certainly, this series must tip its hat to that seminal novel about how children participate in power dynamics when left on their own, often discarding any semblance of humanity.
While The Maze Runner does vary from this premise to a certain extent (there is a larger overarching wickedness, or W.C.K.D, at work here) and successfully develops the essential adventure element that keeps the plot rolling, it really is the ensemble cast and the developing friendships that keeps the film’s core strong and engaging through to it’s fairly surprising climax – though of course things do not end there.
Wes Ball, a first time director, is on board for the sequel The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials due out in September next year. Before that I might just be interested enough to have a go at reading Dashner’s books – sometimes, a decent adaptation really can inspire the reading of the original source material.