John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

The Maze Runner

Genre: Action and Adventure

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter

MPAA-Rating: PG-13

Release Date: September 19th, 2014

In the new feature The Maze Runner, this actor Dylan O’Brien is asked to create a character who, visit this site when the story begins, has no known backstory. For many actors, learning about a back story—or even making one up— is necessary for building a character onscreen.

For O’Brien, that work would’ve only undermined his work onscreen.

Based on the book of the same name (reviewed here), The Maze Runner tells the story of a group of male teens trapped in an arena that is surrounded by a large and elaborate maze. The young people, who arrived individually (one a month had been arriving for approximately three years), have built their own civilization which consists of gatherers, cooks, and most importantly runners. Each day, the runners are sent out to explore the maze  and Thomas— O’Brien’s character— quickly develops a talent for running and surviving in the maze.

It’s no surprise the filmmakers put more of a focus on the action here than was created in the original novel. It’s not long after Thomas arrives in this arena that he’s running through the Maze and attempting to find a way back home (something that and the other boys there don’t remember at all). The secondary characters here aren’t given much to do but perform their limited roles admirably. Aml Ameen stars as Alby, the leader of the teens (and the one who has been there the longest) while Ki Hong Lee and Thomas Brodie-Sangster play Minho (the leader of the runners) and Newt, one of the group’s leaders respectively.

As the story unfolds, Kaya Scodelario eventually appears as Teresa, the first female inhabitant who arrives with a note stating that she’s the last one who will ever be sent into the maze. Unlike in the book though, Teresa is given less of a personality here. That benefits the story because the romantic subplot between Thomas and her is left on the sidelines but that hurts the film because there’s little for her to do in the limited screen time she does have. On the other hand, Blake Cooper (as the sensitive Chuck) and Will Poulter (as the embittered Gally) are given enough lines to build characters we actually learn to understand (although Gally’s motivations are never fully clear).

Dashner’s novel, which was adapted by three different screenwriters, is brought to the big screen by director Wes Ball with this being his first full-length feature film. While some of the important characters have been cut down here (to make way for more action scenes in the maze), Ball does a strong job in introducing this environment and creating a daunting and terrifying maze. It’s clear that the film shares several narrative similarities with The Hunger Games (characters isolated in an arena, monsters/Creators setting up ways for them to perish) but this story is distinct enough to set it apart.

If the film is successful enough, stay tuned for the sequels but this origin story is a solid start for the cinematic series and I’m hoping to see the story continued onscreen in the years to come.

Review by: John Hanlon