The latest in Young Adult science fiction (it’s so hot right now) adaptations offers up the possibility of yet another big franchise that we will, invariably, get bored of before the final installment limps out. It might not have the immediacy of say The Hunger Games, nor the big names, and its ending is laughable, but the young cast are terrific and there is real tension throughout.
Like Cube, Predators and Battle Royale, the hero of The Maze Runner wakes up with no clue where he is or how he got there: ‘Thomas’ (an impressive O’Brien) finds himself in a shaky cage making its way upwards. Reaching the top, he’s greeted by a group of near-feral boys (among them Will Poulter - he’s so hot right now) in a peaceful glen surrounded by an impenetrable maze. These lost boys have been here for three years but Thomas turning up changes everything: he receives visions of who put them here and why, but to get to the bottom of it means venturing out into the maze and facing the Grievers, giant spider guardians, straight on...
The Maze Runner has real mystery from the off: Who are these kids? Who has put them there? Why? What’s out there? What’s beyond that? In truth what’s out there fails to live up to the hype, but when first time director Ball takes the audience into the labyrinth he works hard to keep the boys running scared and the audience guessing. The characters are well-defined, the visuals are slick, Ball gives the maze running real energy, and the allegory for puberty/sexual maturity is welcome. O’Brien, Poulter, and Brodie-Sangster handle themselves well.
It is guilty of some of the worst foreshadowing in some time: When someone says no one goes out into the maze, you can bet someone will; when someone says no one survives a night in the maze, someone will stagger out come morning; when they say nothing comes through those walls, well, you know yourself. And then there’s that ending. Woeful stuff.
Another is on its way, and the third will more than likely be split into two parts (that soulless, cynical, money-grabbing tactic is so hot right now) but on the basis of this first outing one sequel will be welcome. After that we’ll have to see.