The Maze Runner is another film that can thank its existence to the YA… Hey, that’s the little kid from Love Actually!!! The one that played Liam Neeson’s son!! The kid that played the drums while his elementary school crush sang Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” and broke numerous airport protocols with the help of Mr. Bean so he could get a kiss on the cheek from her!! Yes, that was my honest first reaction during about the first 15 minutes of this movie as I saw actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster all grown up. Let it be known: I adore Love Actually and I’m not afraid to say it.
Where were we? Ahh yes. The Maze Runner indeed is another film, like Divergent, that can thank its existence to the recent YA boom made largely popular by the Hunger Games and their movie adaptations. This, too, is based on a popular series of novels by James Dashner and deals with teenagers put in perilous situations where they must learn to work together. We open with 16 year old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, who was 22 when this was made) waking up in a strange land where he has no recollection of who he is or how he arrived there (and not like a blacked out college kid that drank too much the night before way). The large field he finds himself in has been dubbed The Glade by its inhabitants, who are all also young boys in the same predicament. Including Love Actually dude!! Thomas soon learns that he’s the latest arrival in a series of men that arrive like clockwork every month. They’re surrounded by an enormous maze and the field dwellers have spent considerable time attempting to figure out how to get out of it with no luck.
There are rules in the community. Only men tasked as “runners” are permitted to enter the maze for investigatory purposes. If you don’t make it out by a certain time of day, you’re a dead man and scrawled names on the maze wall serve as their memorial. Thomas is understandably confused but also intrigued and his tenacity to solve the maze riddle is not totally met with approval, especially from Gally played by Will Poulter (the dude who sang TLC’s “Waterfalls” in We’re the Millers). There’s also Alby (Ami Ameen), who’s the resident OG (Original Glader). And Chuck (Blake Cooper), Thomas’s portly sidekick who is basically the community’s Chunk from The Goonies. And then a girl shows up (Kaya Scodelario), who actually knows her name and also seems to know Thomas. She’s not given a whole lot to do and I’m assuming her role becomes more pronounced in the sequels. There’s also that kid from Love Actually!!
Once Thomas and his cohorts enter the maze after he jumps the line to become a Runner, we soon discover it might be the gigantic robot spider creatures (or Grievers) causing a good deal of the problems. These creatures (who frankly look quite CG) contribute to the action sequences, which are handled fairly well but are nothing special or new whatsoever.
Eventually Patricia Clarkson shows up to explain the plot and also because it’s a rule that at least one Oscar nominated actor appear in these pictures, a la Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet. As far as acting is concerned, O’Brien gives a serviceable performance as our lead, but 16? I don’t think so. Poulter stands out a bit, proving he can play a jerk after only knowing him as a virginal sweetie from We’re the Millers. And Love Actually kid is just fine.
Ranking The Maze Runner among the first editions of these YA novel based adaptations is rather simple. It isn’t as good as The Hunger Games but it’s better than Divergent. The plot is somewhat ridiculous once we are apprised of it, but director Wes Ball moves things along and it’s mostly entertaining while it lasts (though it kind of loses steam as it goes along). It sets itself perfectly up for a sequel (which is currently #1 at the box office) and there’s just enough in this original that I’ll likely watch its follow up like I did this one. On the couch and less surprised at seeing that Love Actually drummer boy kid.
**1/2 (out of four)