The Maze Runner Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Directed by Wes Ball. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Yet another adaptation of a young adult sci-fi book series, The Maze Runner suffers from a serious case of first-chapter-itis, as its entire running time is devoted to setup for a payoff that never arrives. With a cast full of characters who remember nothing but their own names, the bulk of the movie is one big question mark, obfuscated further by a dizzying array of slang terms that the main characters (all teenage boys) have coined for the strange world in which they find themselves.
That world is called the Glade, an expansive clearing surrounded on all sides by the Maze, a mysterious labyrinth populated by monsters known as Grievers. During the day, boys designated as Runners explore the maze to try to discover a way out (the Grievers mostly come at night—mostly). Into this needlessly complicated hierarchy comes Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), whose arrival upsets the carefully maintained balance that the other boys have developed over years of living in this dangerous place.
The first half-hour consists mostly of exposition (and/or vague non-exposition) and macho posturing among the boys, but once Thomas defies the rules and enters the Maze to take on the Grievers (which resemble giant cyborg scorpions), things pick up a bit. Unfortunately, the infighting among the thinly drawn characters continues to dominate the movie, and the plot never gets out of second gear, even when everyone is running for their lives.
Although it takes place in your basic dystopian future, The Maze Runner feels curiously limited, and the eventual answers about why the characters have been dropped into these bizarre circumstances are meager and unfulfilling. Director Wes Ball is an animator and special effects artist making his feature debut, but he brings minimal flair to the movie’s visuals (the menacing Grievers aside). O’Brien, of MTV’s Teen Wolf, is a solid but unexceptional protagonist, and the supporting players are similarly undistinguished. There’s the jovial fat kid, the hotheaded bully, the level-headed leader and the girl, a late arrival named Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), who has an immediate connection to Thomas (although at least the movie forgoes the obligatory romance).
Any movie that ends with a sinister authority figure pronouncing the beginning of “phase two” is going to be at least a little unsatisfying, and while The Maze Runner means to prime audiences for the promised sequel with that last line, it instead just highlights how little impact the preceding two hours have made.