The Maze Runner Surprises with its Exquisite Execution

“If you ain’t scared… You ain’t human.”

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Photo via Redbrick.com under Creative Commons license

Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, and their fellow cast mates from The Maze Runner.

Alec Badalian, Film/ Staff Writer

As soon as a young adult novel is published, it’s more than likely that a filmic adaptation will follow, specifically in the science-fiction category. Ostensibly, these works all follow a similar structure: a reluctant hero must manage to survive in a dystopian world as the corrupt environment around him/her provides a slew of obstacles. While 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of James Dashner’s 2009 novel The Maze Runner emulates that certain framework, there are still some aspects here that make the film a cut above standard sci-fi fare.

The film, which opens September 19, begins with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) finding himself elevated into the Glade, a rural area located in the center of a towering maze. It is home to several boys such as him who have all similarly been inexplicably placed there and have been living off a makeshift, self-fabricated government. Thomas’ eager attempt at escape gains him both allies and foes as he embarks upon the monumental journey of navigating through this vast puzzle. Rules are broken, sacrifices are made, and these young men are pushed to their physical and mental breaking points.

O’Brien shines in the lead and the rest of the young cast all handle the material just as well. Though some of the supporting characters were a tad shortchanged, such as the stern Gally (Will Poulter) and the courageous Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the performers were still charismatic enough to give their characters both personality and likability. The sense of brotherhood between all these young men is strongly evident throughout, making them all empathetic in their own way. The overall plot is also cleverly layered and appealing on various levels, from its general progression to its occasional twists and turns.

The film is also refreshingly practical in terms of its visuals for the most part. But when the VFX are present, director Wes Ball treats them with great expertise, never making them seem neither oversaturated nor underdone. The action sequences are all filmed comprehensively with a prominent sense of grit and suspense as well. Unfortunately, the film does have some derivative plot elements and familiar characters at times which make some of its other more sharp ideas seem less unique. But with that aside, it’s thoroughly enjoyable, predominantly loyal to the source material, and a worthy setup for the continuation of this epic saga.