Just as the phenomenal “Hunger Games” saga is close to finishing its run, the release of “The Maze Runner,” based on a popular book series, seems eager to become the fresh face of the young adult adaptation. While the film presents an engaging universe and an interesting take on the sci-fi genre, the overall effect is marred by mediocre acting and a complicated, overzealous plot that’s so determined to surprise the audience at every turn that it borders on desperation.
After amnesiac Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) awakens in a mysterious forest surrounded by a gigantic maze, he learns from the other boys trapped there, led by the abrasive Gally (Will Poulter), that the only way to escape is to solve the maze. The only problem is that at night, the maze is populated by vicious creatures known as Grievers, meaning that the boys only have a limited time to figure out a way out of their prison. The rules begin to change after the arrival of Thomas and a mysterious girl called Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), and the group must work together to finally escape captivity.
Unlike sci-fi films set across sprawling cities or worlds, “The Maze Runner’”s setting is compact. All it consists of is the forest and the maze. This small setting makes learning the laws of the film’s universe quicker and simpler, while also avoiding the haunting possibility of delivering a “Lord of The Rings” sized universe that possesses little substance and rapidly becomes boring.
The acting in the film is admirable, with the side characters oddly being more likable than the leads. O’Brien does his best with his character, but the script relegates him to the prophetic hero who is reminded several times that he is “special” and “different,” despite not having any notable qualities. Even worse is Scodelario’s character, who is essentially useless in terms of plot. Since she has little bearing on the story and hardly any development at all, it’s possible to argue that she exists simply for balancing gender representation. The most notable performance comes from Poulter who, even while working with an unbearably arrogant character, is clearly having fun with the role.
The contents of the film’s world are fascinating, though. The maze is a computer-generated marvel in terms of scope, although the interior could have been more interesting and interactive. Likewise, the horrifying creatures are well-designed but lack variety.
The writers — Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin — clearly understand the source material they’re given and expand upon it throughout the plot’s quick pacing. The tight, well-explained first act effectively details the rules and regulations to the audience in a way that is easy to grasp, an impressive feat in a genre where explaining exposition can be mind-numbingly tedious. Indeed, the first half hour succeeds at establishing mystery and suspense.
Unfortunately, the writers’ skills don’t extend through the whole film. The finale, rather than being a thrilling conclusion that answers every untouched question, does the exact opposite. Instead, the ending concludes with nothing more than a shameless setup for the franchise that will inevitably follow. Questions that should have been answered are shoved aside for even more questions, and the film hints at a bigger world to explore, a world that can doubtfully be more interesting than the lush, mysterious maze.
“The Maze Runner,” despite a promising start, fails to deliver an altogether solid story. It loses its speed trying desperately to build franchises out of characters that are just plain uninteresting. Despite these issues, the film is an enjoyable ride that stands out in a crowded, predictable genre.