With titles like The Hunger Games and Divergent making headlines around the world on a daily basis, it is safe to say that young adult fiction has taken the film industry by storm, prompting a new trend of action and special effect-based films.
The Maze Runner, released in theaters on Sept. 19, puts a new twist on the genre by almost completely omitting the romantic undertones often associated with this new wave of young adult films, and instead focusing more on the mysteries surrounding its plot and characters.
Based on the 2009 science fiction book by James Dashner, Runner tells the story of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, Teen Wolf), a teenager who finds himself transported to the Glade, a large farm-like area enclosed by stone walls hundreds of feet high, with no memory of his past self.
The Glade is populated by a group of similarly-aged boys, including leader Alby (Aml Ameen, Kidulthood), second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Game of Thrones) and overly-aggressive Gally (Will Poulter, We’re the Millers), all of whom also have no memory of their previous lives before coming to the enclosure.
As the film progresses, it is revealed that a massive and forever-changing stone maze that lies beyond their walls may hold the key to the boys’ freedom if they can solve it while avoiding the monsters and obstacles within.
After years of fruitless attempts on the part of the “Gladers” to solve the maze, Thomas’s arrival leads to a chain of events that disrupts the fragile stability of the community, ultimately resulting in a final race toward freedom and the unexpected truth behind their mysterious situation.
Fans of the book series will be pleased to learn that the film adaptation remains generally true to its source material, at least as far as the major plot details go. However, one major deviation that Runner makes from its corresponding book lies in the relationship between protagonist Thomas and one of the only female characters in the story, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, Skins).
While the book portrays the two as having a deep and definitely romantic connection, the film merely hints at such themes; in short, the movie is more Lord of the Flies than Twilight, using the relationships and dynamics between its community of characters as its driving action, rather than focusing on the romantic chemistry and love triangles that have become so prevalent in recent young adult fiction films.
As a result, Runner becomes more of a sci-fi mystery than anything, albeit one that is regrettably far simpler and compressed than that of the books due to the constraints of the film’s two-hour runtime.
This simplification of the plot perhaps makes the film more coherent and straightforward than its more detailed source material, but viewers who have not read the book series may suffer from a lack of information when the explanations to all the mysteries start rolling out in the film’s climax.
In addition to any strengths or weaknesses stemming from the film’s plot and characterization, Runner a fair enough action film with several impressive special effect sequences.
The lighting in several of the action scenes is often not quite strong enough to fully illuminate these effects, but maybe that’s getting a little too nit-picky.
Overall, the film offers fresh approach on the young adult sci-fi genre; it presents a problem to be solved and a hero to solve it, while hinting at mysteries within the world of the film that stretch beyond this simple pretext.
Viewers hoping to have all their questions answered may be disappointed, but more information will undoubtedly be provided in further installments of the series, through which the film’s likable cast will hopefully carry the story and the audience’s attention successfully.
Our Take: 3/5