LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Out of the darkness, a boy named Thomas, played by Dylan O'Brien, appears gagging and scared, his mind wiped clean as he's caged in a dark surface ascending into an unknown world.
This opening is metaphorical to the story of "The Maze Runner," that has been told before its cinematic debut. James Dashner's best-selling novel arrives to the big screen at a time when young-adult novels have carved a genre all their own into the cinematic culture.
+ The Maze Runner
+ Rated PG-13
+ 118 minutes
+ Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scoledario, Will Poulter, Thomas Sangster, Patricia Clarkson
+ 3 stars out of 4
Doubtful that many young-adult movie buffs have not seen "The Hunger Games" or the "Twilight" or "Divergent" sagas, but "The Maze Runner" doesn't seek to win over teen minds with a forced love triangle plotline or a pretentious next-big-series release. ,Instead the film is comprised of virtually all relatively little known young, yet effective, actors, with a steady pace and an interesting storyline of a stranger fighting his way out of a strange world.
The light emerges, revealing the silhouettes of some 60 or so young boys, who look on the newbie Thomas like a freshman transfer. Thomas realizes he and the boys share the same fate of living in "The Glade," a stretch of open green territory where the boys, known as "Gladers," have successfully built their own agrarian society. None of the boys has any prior memory to their arrival, other than their first names. But Thomas almost instantly learns he and the Gladers are trapped within the overwhelming walls of a giant maze.
The maze is an impressive visual feat. A CGI achievement without an overwhelming feeling of computers, a great mystery protrudes like an ancient civilization that's been lost. What is this place? What is its purpose? But the maze carries only certain death, as sci-fi nightmare creatures known as Grievers haunt the labyrinth at night, preventing Thomas and the Gladers from an easy escape. Only the chosen few, known as the Runners, have the authority and speed to venture inside the maze to try to find a way out.
Thomas seeks the guidance of the Runners to find answers behind the maze and the purpose of them all remaining trapped in the Glade. His inquisitive nature attracts both allies and enemies, particularly Gally (Will Poulter), the leader of the Gladers who feels Thomas brings with him nothing but trouble. But the sudden arrival of Teresa (Kaya Scoledario) throws the established order of the Glade into chaos, with all eyes turning to Thomas as the cause, quickly establishing him as the outsider turned Messiah figure to finally lead them out of the maze.
What the Gladers come to discover is that they are part of a much larger circumstance, serving as an opening for veteran actress Patricia Clarkson to seductively hint that Thomas and his band of Gladers are hardly out of danger.
It's almost inevitable for a lesser-known story to have comparisons. Many have drawn parallels for "The Maze Runner" as a case of "Lord of the Flies" meets "Lost." However, a promising element for this film is that it demonstrates human societies can be maintained in dangerous environments. Anarchy is not the only outcome.
This is an impressive directorial debut for Wes Ball, as he shows a keen eye for visual detail and steady-paced storytelling as the film never falls into any dead ends. Dylan O'Brien as well commands the screen, giving a very old-soul performance. Though he's made a name for himself on the small screen, this is his debut performance for me and I see a very promising career for him down the road.
Since "The Maze Runner" is part one a four-novel series, it should be understood early that the ending of the film promises many further questions than answers, but surely fans of both the books and film should be up for the ride as Thomas and the Gladers are hardly out of the Maze yet.
The confirmed sequel, "The Scorch Trials," arrives in theatres next September.