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Within a Glade within a Maze are boys without their memories,
Trying to survive and build the best of boy communities.
Outside the Glade, within the Maze are Grievers no one’s lived to see,
And the walls protect as well as hold them in captivity.
A final boy is planted here and wonders at the mysteries;
Thomas breaks the rules, impressing some but making enemies.
In search of freedom and some answers, gutsy curiosity
Opens doors as it explores and hopes to set the captives free.

Despite the glut of young adult films based on young adult book series starring young adults, The Maze Runner was one of the few films last year that I actually wanted to see in the theater based on the trailer alone. While I didn’t get to view it until just recently, I found it to be just what I was hoping for, a better-than-average YA thriller that rises above its brethren due to sheer intensity.

Like The Hunger Games, it’s a story built around one central but entertainingly provocative concept: a collection of amnesiac boys trapped in an enigmatic maze. Honestly, I’m surprised this idea was adapted into a book and film before it became a video game, what with its survivalist circumstances, plot-specific terminology (Grievers, the Changing, etc.), and lack of in-depth characters. (I can easily envision “Mini-Games with Minho” as players map and memorize the Maze. It makes me wonder what Halo or Portal would have been like had the game not come first.) Though none of the characters have an explained backstory as yet, they all become more real and likable over time. As second-in-command Newt says, it doesn’t matter who they were but who they are now, and almost all of them are sympathetic and supportive of each other as they band together to face the unknown with surprising maturity. My VC pointed out that the script could have been full of wit or clever dialogue, but instead the character’s lines are very much what real people might say, adding to the realism of the performances.

These YA series seem to act like this generation’s Red Dawn or The Breakfast Club, introducing many fresh faces sure to have promising careers ahead of them. Dylan O’Brian and Kaya Scodelario portray the game-changers Thomas and Teresa, alongside Aml Ameen as leader Alby and Ki Hong Lee as runner Minho. I was excited to see Will Poulter as Gally, a very different role from that of weaselly cousin Eustace Scrubb in the Narnia film The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and my favorite of the boys would have to be Newt, played by baby-faced Thomas Brodie-Sangster, known to me as the voice of Ferb on Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb.

While there’s no Lost alert for any of the actors, several similarities to that great show occurred to me afterward. Think about it: there is a group of people banding together in isolation, hoping to escape, while receiving supplies from a mysterious acronymed organization obsessed with experiments (DHARMA=WCKD) who leave cryptic video messages, all while being terrorized by an unseen creature which emits roars and mechanical clicking noises. On top of that, there are lies built upon lies and mysteries upon mysteries, which foster Lost-style speculation about what it all means (at least for those of us who haven’t read James Dashner’s books). According to IMDb, even director Wes Ball originally called the film “Lord of the Flies meets Lost.”

While the social commentary is not as pronounced as in The Hunger Games series, The Maze Runner surprisingly prompted far more discussion between my VC and me. We mainly debated the morality of Thomas’s search for the truth, which led to many casualties and didn’t better their situation (at least in this installment). On the one hand, she sympathized with Gally, who didn’t want to upset the status quo, a hard-fought peace that had made the Glade more or less an idyllic community. While Thomas wanted to find the truth, he did spoil that peace with his revolutionary curiosity, which ended up costing many lives. On the other hand, I countered that, as Thomas states, the situation in the Glade could not last forever, and his actions may have actually saved more lives (my reasoning behind that would be too spoiler-prone). In addition, the tantalizing idea of freedom and the desire to not be controlled or contained were understandable driving forces for his dissenting inquisitiveness.

The Maze Runner may draw a little from Aliens and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, mainly with respect to the frightening Grievers, but it’s an intense and intriguing first installment for a series in which I’m now thoroughly invested, full of tense moments and glowing Broadway musical reviews (after all, “Wicked is good,” right?). That being said, don’t expect a lot of answers to your questions. The ending explains a couple issues but raises even more, and since my VC was not expecting this to be a trilogy, she was unsatisfied by the conclusion. If you enjoy sci-fi thrillers and don’t mind cliffhangers, this film is a must, but if that’s not the case, you might wait to watch after all the films have been released, like I did after Lost’s final season. Guilty as charged. 🙂

Best line: (Newt, to Thomas) “He’s right. It doesn’t matter, any of it. Because the people we were before the Maze, they don’t even exist anymore. These Creators took care of that. What does matter is who we are now and what we do right now.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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