Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Rating: 3.5 star
AMONG the rash of young-adult fictions based in dystopic worlds currently invading big screens, comes this unexpected surprise. More Lord of the Flies than Hunger Games, and a very far cry from The Giver, The Maze Runner comes in soberingly dark tones, backed by solid acting. With neither 3D nor special effects to distract attention, this tale about a group of boys stuck on a patch of grass enclosed by high stone walls is propelled solely by its story-telling.
Thomas (O’Brien) finds himself on that patch, called the Glade, one day when he wakes up inside a box. The perplexed 16-year-old remembers little of his previous life besides his name, even as the other boys fill him in on their life in the Glade. The box such as the one in which Thomas came delivers a boy every month to the Glade while every week food is sent up to them in it. In the three years since the Glade apparently came into being, numerous attempts have been made to cross those walls but no one has figured a way out of the Maze behind it. Many boys have lost their lives in the attempts, to creatures called the Grievers.
There are of course no surprises about where Thomas and the story go from here, even when the Glade gets its first girl, Teresa (Scodelario). Thomas and Teresa recognise each other, which is yet another clue that they are destined for bigger things.
There is no intermittent romance or harmless bantering in director Ball’s The Maze Runner, based on the first book of a trilogy by James Dashner. Instead, the much-too-young boys have to consistently deal with confounding problems and to find solutions with the limited resources available to them. The Grievers turn out to be little more than giant unwieldy spider-like things, and still there are some genuinely moving scenes of bravery as the boys fight back.
The tussles for leadership are without menace, and the conflicts arise from confusion rather than showmanship. Readers of the book have praised the film for being better than it, and there can be few greater compliments. However, Ball’s biggest achievement is letting us see the children at the heart of this coming-of-age story.