The Maze Runner

Movie Information

The Story: YA sci-fi about a group of boys trapped at the center of a maze. The Lowdown: Better than average for its type, but not without problems of its own, The Maze Runner still manages to create a world of disturbing menace with better than expected characters.
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Fantasy
Director: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson
Rated: PG-13



I really wanted to like The Maze Runner more than the film allowed me to. In terms of just about everything, I like the idea of it far more than the massively popular Hunger Games movies. And when it’s at its best, I think it’s considerably better than those, but it is unfortunately not always at its best. I don’t object to the fact that it spends a good deal of time detailing the world of the film. I expected that and don’t really see any way around it, especially with the target audience in mind. I’m mostly OK with the WWII-bomber-crew casting of ethnically diverse types, since the film doesn’t play to the ethnicity of the characters. I do, however, object to the fact that I could rightly guess — in the first 20 minutes — just which character would almost, but not quite, make it to the end for a tug at the heartstrings. I also find it peculiar, to say the least, that there’s not even a hint of sexuality in a story with all these hormonal teenage boys trapped in a confined space, nor is there any particular interest in the arrival of a girl. But what I really take issue with is all the uninspired running away from the movie’s rather clunky, giant CGI spider monsters. It’s a case of when the action cranks up, the interest goes down.




In many respects, this is just another look into a dystopian future complete with the requisite “chosen one.” (I always expect someone to announce at the end of these things, “And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!”)  And while it is better than most — and poised to take the weekend box office — interest in it suffers from the inevitable YA dystopian sci-fi fatigue. The setup for this one places this group of boys in a glade in the middle of a maze. The maze is the only possible avenue of escape, but it comes with built-in perils. Not only does it close — and reconfigure itself — at sundown, but after dark, these deadly things called “grievers” (the monster spider things) come out. This, of course, means that until the arrival of the movie’s chosen one, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, TV’s Teen Wolf), no one has ever survived a night in the maze. Chances are you can pretty much figure out where this is going, especially since there are more than a few passing similarities to The Hunger Games. But there are differences, and those are not without their interest.




Without getting into the realm of spoilers, it’s fair to report that these boys — finally joined by one girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario, who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Kristen Stewart) — have no idea why they’re here. They also have no memory of their lives prior to this existence, which makes their plight more desperate and interesting. It’s also of note — without saying too much — that this is no kind of bread-and-circus entertainment to appease the appetites of some jaded ruling class. And somehow — thanks to the production design and the direction — this becomes less simplistic and more disturbing. There’s no hint of easy social commentary here — despite the obvious parallel to Lord of the Flies.




Several things make this an improvement over run-of-the-mill movies of its type. The screenplay is generally intelligent — with a notable lapse or two. The characters are surprisingly well-defined, and the acting is definitely above average. The stills for the film make Dylan O’Brien look like a graduate of the Corey Haim School of Mouth Breather Acting, but that’s deceptive. He comes across much better in the actual film — and unlike Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series, he’s actually likable. And while there’s no getting around the fact that Kaya Scodelaria looks like an imitation Kristen Stewart, she’s a far more appealing performer. Thomas Brodie-Sangster is the key supporting actor, giving the role more depth than appears on the page. The weak link is Will Poulter — or more to the point, the way his character is written. His misgivings about Thomas and the sense of jealousy about his own loss of status are one thing, but his final eruption into what can only be called lunacy feels forced and unmotivated. Much has been written about the ending being a letdown. I admit it contains a cliche of alarming proportions, but I didn’t feel let down at all. Rather, I felt intrigued by where it might go in the sequel, which is no mean accomplishment. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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7 thoughts on “The Maze Runner

  1. Edwin Arnaudin

    I also find it peculiar, to say the least, that there’s not even a hint of sexuality in a story with all these hormonal teenage boys trapped in a confined space, nor is there any particular interest in the arrival of a girl.

    That was odd. Maybe it was brainwashed out of them? They talk about “the only thing” they’re allowed to keep is their name, yet they retain all sorts of other interpersonal and survival skills.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Maybe the provisions that come up in that elevator are heavily laced with saltpeter?

    • Holes

      Just saw this movie and simply had to say something. Three and a half stars? 1 maybe. For a good idea. Half star for suspense? Maybe. So, I was thinking what could have come up the elevator was a movie that didn’t have so many holes in it. Yes? Does anyone pay attention to this anymore when telling a story? Does it not take away from the enjoyment of the film? Way to much suspension of disbelief no matter how sci fi this film may claim to be. Staggering, but try not to think about it.
      So, here’s just a few holes to mention…it ll be fun…
      First: who could have possibly created that elaborate, Stonehenge on steroids maze? The Rockman from Never Ending Story? It couldn’t be the corporate scientists. It boggles the mind. Someone went to a lot of trouble to “test” aka “screw” with these kids, to prepare/torture them or whatever these sicko scientists are up to. Oh yea, preserving the human race. I bet the military would have appreciated some grass and trees after all that Mad Max wasteland every day. They seem to know their way into the maze guns up.
      Second: what did these kids eat and more importantly drink for three years? Bet they smelled pretty bad too.. Third: could they have dug under the wall with their shovels? Three years could produce a lot of digging! Fourth: a rope down the elevator with a little ingenuity? Maybe a teenage boy chain? I can suspend belief with the best of em (have to these days) but these holes take away from the enjoyment of the film, simply not realistic, borderline annoying. Does this not show to people?
      Also, how much teen anger repressed for being held captive for three years could have surfaced more here; to be screwed with for so long. The girl, was a complete waste of a character, no matter who she looks like. Poor girl must have been terrified at first. Sick joke the scientists played? Who cares, right?. This movie had potential, but then…well..holes.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        Odd to have this sudden flurry of interest in The Maze Runner. First, my cousin raved about it over Thanksgiving, saying it’s an allegory for the modern work world, and now this comment.

        • Ken Hanke

          The movie is more interesting as allegory than as YA action thriller stuff.

      • Jody Parker

        I believe they said someone drops off supplies every month. They had a running stream through the forest. How does anyone survive in the wild? I doubt they could have dug through with their shovels and even so where would they come out at? They would be letting the spiders come through to when the wall was shut. I think the explanation for why the maze was built was not yet explained. It also is far in the future. The scientist told them why they were there at the end but it could not be true since it was a set up. I liked that they didn’t show the boys as potential rapists just because a girl is around. They had a lot else going on at the moment as well to take time to flush out a romance or teen hormones would have slowed the story.

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