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Review: ‘The Maze Runner’ Starring Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More

Review: 'The Maze Runner' Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More

In Greek mythology the labyrinth was a byzantine structure utilized to house the deadly minotaur, built at the behest of a powerful king and deadly in its complexity and size. In perhaps the most memorable modern approximation, “The Shining,” a hedge maze is employed for the film’s snowy climax, in order to trap another deadly monster – an alcoholic author played by Jack Nicholson. This week’s leaden “The Maze Runner,” adapted from a best-selling young adult novel by James Dashner, also features a monster-filled maze but narrative ambition and any kind of metaphoric underpinnings have been stripped away. Instead, the maze is, like the rest of the movie, giant, dreary, and inert.

Like most halfway decent YA adaptations, “The Maze Runner” starts off intriguingly enough: Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a mysterious community known as The Glade. His memory has been wiped (the only thing he remembers is his name) and he is both terrified and drawn to a giant maze that encircles the camp of similarly lost boys. The camp’s leader Alby (Ami Ameen) explains that most of the young men have been there for years, and notes that the agrarian society has already been broken down into factions who exist, happily, side-by-side. The most skilled and foolhardy members of their little tribe are the only ones allowed to traverse the maze, since it’s guarded by scary monsters and is constantly shifting (controlled by damnably unseen forces). Of course, that doesn’t keep Thomas from wanting to explore it, at the cost of potentially all of their lives. On the other side of the maze, Thomas realizes, is freedom, for all of them.

When Thomas is introduced to this world, a number of cultural touchstones are invoked, mostly works that involve a maze either real or imagined, like the cult British television series “The Prisoner” or metaphysical mystery box “Lost.” The world of “The Maze Runner” is so small, especially compared to the vast universes conjured up by things like “The Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” franchises, so those outside elements act as a way to broaden and expand what is a relatively contained environment. The mystery is titillating, but only for a spell. And after the movie’s first act, things slow down considerably.

Mazes are scary, as anyone who has ever gone into a peaceful corn maze and forgotten, if only for a moment, the way out and been gripped by an inescapable terror can attest, and the idea that this particular maze, with its shifting geography and scary monsters that howl out in the night, certainly conjures up a sizable amount of dread. But mazes are also such a blank canvas that, without projecting something into the maze (the fear of being overruled, psychosexual unrest), then all it becomes is a scary, vine-covered location. “The Maze Runner” has soggy plotting and muddy cinematography, but the fact that the filmmakers (led by first timer Wes Ball) weren’t able to do more with the maze, on a metaphoric level, is the most depressing of all.

Even when a young female character is introduced into the mix (Kaya Scodelario, whose American accent wavers intermittently), upending the otherwise male-only movie, it doesn’t do much to shake up the drab narrative path that runs, unlike the maze, in a straight line. It seems that, especially with the girl showing up, the labyrinth would be a perfect stand-in for the claustrophobic sensations associated with adolescence (especially male adolescence). Feelings of being trapped and held in place, by parents, by teachers, by your own rampaging hormones seem like something of a no-brainer when applied to a property that features a literal maze. But in “The Maze Runner,” where characters are repeatedly telling each other that nothing is ever what it seems, it is completely free of any metaphoric dimension.

As the movie drags on, more and more about the maze is revealed, including that one of its architects is, for some reason, played by Patricia Clarkson (doing her best Jodie Foster-in-“Elysium” impression), and that the monsters everyone is so afraid of are actually lumbering steampunk spiders that are brought to life via unconvincing computer-generated imagery. These bits of plot detail don’t amount to much, although we still found ourselves wanting the characters to learn more, if only because their getting out of the maze would mean that the movie was actually over. Except, in a cruel twist of fate, the movie doesn’t actually end, because, like so many similar young adult adaptations, it is the first part of a trilogy, and the filmmakers, in their infinite wisdom (and just as infinite arrogance), don’t bother to end the movie at all. Instead, we’re treated to a tacked-on cliffhanger that would have been suspenseful and gripping if anything that came before it was of any consequence at all. But since it’s not, the “ending” means even less. It’s superfluous “world building” for a universe nobody would ever want to return to, unless they’re a big fan of olive-colored clothing and repressed sexuality.

Fans of the novel might get some minor thrills from the big screen adaptation, but it’s hard to understand what made the material so popular in the first place. “The Maze Runner,” as a film, is free of texture, nuance, or dimensionality. And those wishing for the kind of visceral excitement and subtle socio-political commentary of “The Hunger Games” will be found desperately wanting. It might become a franchise, but just because of canny marketing and fan loyalty; like the giant walls of the titular labyrinth, in “The Maze Runner,” there’s nothing to grip onto. [D] 

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Terrible movie.. I literally skipped 20 minutes forward just to make it end quicker


The maze runner well it would have been easier to climb up the walls and wall your way out, obviously the IQ levels have decreased over the years. And if the world is all desert how come the commune has woods and streams ? Am I missing something?


So your issue with the film is that it wasn’t metaphorical enough? Seriously? How many PBRs did you consume before seeing this?


I give the movie a 60/100, because it didn’t stay true to the book.


his movie was terrible. Total waste of time. Thin plot, weak acting and at the end it made no sense. It looks like the writers didn’t know where they were going with the story. Don’t waste your time.

rob r

I disagree with this review. Yes, there is the obvious comparisons to Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games, but I felt the movie was quite suspenseful and action packed throughout. I thought the fact that they introduced the only girl later in the film worked well. These boys had their memories wiped and many had only been around other boys for years so it was interesting to see how they adapted.

Sad as it was, I like that they killed the Chuck character. It gave some real life credendce whereas many other films always find a ridiculous way for a beloved character to survive.

I didn’t read the novel but based on the film I may now read the rest of the trilogy and look forward to the next film next year.

sal jenks

Glad to see someone else felt like this movie never really got going. The premise was interesting, but the character never asked the right questions and the plot didn’t go anywhere meaningful. The worst of it all was the tacky "expect sequels" non-ending. 2/5 from me


There is some social commentary that you kind of have to dig for about education entrapping students and being more of a study of student performance in spite of poor education rather than a place that equips them for the real world. At the end of the movie when the kids exit the maze and are confronted with a wasteland we see the metaphor extended to the problem that despite what education one may have gleaned from their time in the walls, there are no opportunities outside. I’m not convinced that the movie-makers had this commentary in mind, but it fits rather nicely.


I don’t know what movie you were watching but it sounds like you went into this film wanting to hate it which is unfortunate because you missed some really good filmmaking. I thought it was extremely well done and enjoyed every minute of it…as did most of the audience in my theatre. Story always kept moving, had everyone on the edge of their seats, the acting was SUPERB (much better than many of these YA adapts), set design was very impressive, score was beautiful, cinematography was gorgeous. Not to mention the fact that this film cost 30M instead of 100M (like Hunger Games & Divergent) and has no big names in it….I thought it was fantastic.


I saw this today, too, and I have to agree with the review. All smoke and mirrors but little substance. As the start of a franchise, it isn’t very inspiring. And I’d have to disagree about Josh Hutcherson in THG movies. He stepped up to the plate and is totally convincing. Hemsworth is just a wooden plank, much like Kristen Stewart in the emoting department. He’s being carried on in THG franchise much the way she was carried on by better actors in the Twi franchise.


I saw this film today and it was truly great. The acting is stellar (overall better than in "The Hunger Games", where Jennifer Lawrence is a marvel, but where Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth leave much to be desired); the movie is dark, gritty and genuinely scary on occasion; it looks much better than its $35 million budget suggests, with some great CGI; and its overall a very capable launch of a franchise, with a delicious tease of the (likely) sequel’s rather different setting at the very end. I’d give it well-earned B+.


What? I loved the movie, I just decide to watch it in last minute and I never heard about it, and I lvoe it! It’s really good, I mean for first movie on trilogy is really more exciting then hunger games 1, and the fact of don’t having romance, and being so real, and making the public feeling that could be them in this freaking insane apocalypse world it’s so amazing. Hunger Games, Divergent just seems so unreal, and The Maze Runner makes us think that yeah this could be us. I give the movie a A in the YA movies world! Dylan O’brien is amazing I didn’t know much about him, but now I really want to see more about him, is going to be amazing.


Completely disagree. This is a good movie, nothing exceptional, but enjoyable, good thrills, decent acting. I really think the author of this review expected THG Redux, or something, the thing is, it’s nothing alike, except being based on a book, and disregarding it only because it’s main target is YA audience it’s stupid. The only thing I hated was Poulter’s face (his eyebrows or lack there of freak me out)


Ignore this review. The movie is so great! Meanwhile Playlist does only a good job working 24/7 as Robert Pattinsons promotion team. But that’s it.


"…subtle socio-political commentary of "The Hunger Games"…" Y’all need a dictionary in your lives.


Don’t listen to this review. This movie was sooooo good. I give an A!


"It’s superfluous "world building" for a universe nobody would ever want to return to, unless they’re a big fan of olive-colored clothing and repressed sexuality…"

You think because you disliked it, nobody would enjoy it? Like you opinion on this film is fact? How full of yourself can you be…


Hunger Games was exciting? Maube the second, but the first was boring and mediocre.

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