You may have noticed, September is a strange time for movies. All the big action blockbusters opened in the summer, and all the horror films won’t come out until October when it’s close to Halloween. That leaves September as a no-man’s land somewhere in between, and that is the feel of The Maze Runner. Based on a book with the same name, The Maze Runner is part thriller and part action movie, but it also stars teen-age protagonists (or at least ones from teen oriented TV and films), so it seems aimed at a youth or family audience. However, it falls in between all of these genres – except, it is definitely not a family movie. It has scenes and themes far too intense for children and probably most pre-teens. That said, it is an engaging, entertaining story, and though it suffers from a number of flaws, it is a fun film for an older teen to young adult audience.
The film itself starts off as a mystery. A teenager named Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien from MTV’s Teen Wolf) is delivered in a cage to The Glade, a strange farm-like setting populated entirely by teenage boys. Thomas has lost his memory, and he soon discovers so has every teen, as none of them has any recollection prior to arriving at The Glade. For three years, teens have been delivered to The Glade; however, they have no idea why they are there, who put them there, and most importantly, why The Glade is surrounded by a massive, seemingly endless maze. The Maze has moving walls and is inhabited by Grievers, nocturnal monsters that resemble giant spiders made from a nightmare blend of living tissue and mechanical appendages. Despite these dangers, the Maze Runners, an elite group of boys from The Glade, brave the Maze every day looking for a way out.
Within days of Thomas’ arrival, another teen arrives, but this time it’s a girl. The first one ever. Even more shocking, she carries a note, saying she is the last teen ever to be sent. Almost immediately, things go wrong, the rules of this constructed world change, and Thomas and the other kids must find a way out before the deadly dangers of the Maze come to find them.
In general, The Maze Runner provides fast paced, action-driven entertainment with an intriguing premise. The special effects are good, the acting is decent, and the production value makes the world believable. The movie does steer clear of sex, drug use, and even foul language where the brain-wiped boys can only remember made-up swear words like “you’re a stupid piece of ‘clunk’”. Even still, be mindful of the PG-13 rating. What this film does contain is that new trend in youth movies of teens being killed. In the film, Grievers murder teenagers and, possibly even more disturbing, teens kill each other. The film suffers from other artistic issues, as well. The worst problem comes in the form of the answer to the riddle of the Maze. When the big secret is revealed, it seems plausible… for a few seconds. Then, almost immediately the thought comes, “if the problem is X, how is the Maze the best solution?” In addition, while a movie like this summer’s The Giver was also an allegory and a metaphor for society, The Maze Runner ends up being surprisingly straight forward. It is kids escaping a maze. Another big issue is that for this story to really engage audiences, you have to care about the characters. While they are generally likeable youths, the fact is the audience barely has any time to connect with these characters and become invested. This creates another dangerous mystery: Will the audience really care if the characters live or die?
Despite its flaws, the The Maze Runner is an enjoyable film – for an age appropriate audience. It also proposes positive themes about sticking together and never giving up even when facing impossible odds, or problems, or in this case – mazes. Again, even with a poster filled with a teenage cast, be mindful of PG-13 movies. With the violence in this film, it more than earns its rating. It simply isn’t family friendly viewing. That said, while I’m not a fan of media that centers on youth violence, the film does not glorify or encourage it. The maze in the film may be convoluted and complex, and the motive of its creators, even more of a puzzle; yet, The Maze Runner itself provides two hours of straight forward entertainment. If you like science fiction thrillers, enjoy the ride… or in this case, the Run.