For a story that relies heavily on the unknown, The Maze Runner is built solidly on familiar and easily recognizable tropes. But while those tropes are engaging during the course of the movie, neither the characters nor the plot hold up to further scrutiny. I watched it without having read the series, and I left the theater not particularly interested in following the story beyond what I had seen.
The film starts with a bang–literally–as Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a metal cage rocketing towards an unknown destination. O’Brien has had plenty of practice acting determined and scared on Teen Wolf, and his performance is the strongest of the cast’s. That said, it was very reminiscent of his work on the MTV show, specifically in season 3, and there were several moments when I half-expected to hear “Stiles!” instead of “Thomas!” as O’Brien pushed the boundaries of the Glade.
Boundaries make up the running theme of The Maze Runner: the boys refer to themselves as Gladers, defining their existence by the grassy square in which they reside. Their fastest and bravest seek out the physical boundaries of the maze, but return every afternoon to the same life. Thomas’ arrival shakes up the “peaceful” Glader existence because he insists on knowing more, running farther, asking things that the Gladers don’t bother to pursue.
Suspending my disbelief became more challenging when I learned the Gladers had been there for three years, and frustrated though they were, none of them wanted to push the limits the way Thomas did. He becomes the Chosen One™, leading to some exciting moments against the Grievers, half-mechanical monstrosities inside the maze, but it does feel like walking down a very familiar path.
Likewise, the rest of the characters fit very specific roles in the narrative. I greatly appreciated the diversity in this cast, with good performances from Ki Hong Lee (The Nine Lives of Chloe King) and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones). Blake Cooper as Chuck was also a stand-out, and he’ll easily charm audiences. But their individual stories are drowned out by the “twist” ending, which itself was not all that unexpected.
And of course, what would a Chosen One™ be without a lovely young woman to cheer him on? Kaya Scodelario is visually captivating as Teresa, but is unfortunately relegated to Token Girl status. Her talents, showcased in British series Skins, are hamstrung by a handful of lines, all of which have to do with encouraging Thomas. We don’t learn anything about her as a person, and while that may be due to the film only covering the first novel of the series, it still shouldn’t be easy to slot in any other character and still have the same impact. Any film or book, regardless of its intended audience, only does itself a disservice when it limits female roles this way. I have been told that the books do expand upon her character more, but there is no guarantee that a second or third movie will be made, and as it stands now, she remains a sketch of a character for me.
Ultimately, the film is intense and arresting, but holds few surprises. The Maze Runner will likely please fans of the books, who will be able to experience the action with a richer knowledge of where all of it is going, and casual movie-watchers looking for an entertaining way to spend two hours.