Minho (Ki Hong Lee, left) and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, right) devise an escape plan in “The Maze Runner.” Photo by Ben Rothstein
Minho (Ki Hong Lee, left) and Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, right) devise an escape plan in “The Maze Runner.” Photo by Ben Rothstein
Arts Featured Rancho Santa Fe

Film review: Twists and turns are enough to satisfy fans of ‘The Maze Runner’

It’s unlikely to become the next great young-adult blockbuster, but “The Maze Runner” is by all means a capable action-adventure thriller that manages to come out on top.

To my own knowledge, the survival rate for big young-adult films is anything but high; most either collapse on the first try or resign themselves to a franchise fate of obscurity, and even fewer make it to adulthood. And with “The Hunger Games” dominating the big screen until its end in 2015, I don’t expect to see another knockout anytime soon.

That’s not to say there won’t at least be some solid titles that manage to get by – who says every quality movie has to be at the top of the food chain? “The Maze Runner” is one of them, and it handles itself rather well in carving out a place it can call home.

I haven’t read the book by James Dashner yet, but what I like about Wes Ball’s direction is the ease in which he jumps right into the situation at hand. He quickly establishes this strange expanse called the Glade and the boys — all of whom can’t remember their pasts, let alone how or why they arrived here — that fear the gigantic maze surrounding them on all sides.

Ball understands that the right way to begin “The Maze Runner” is to cut to the chase, and from the moment the lead character, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), wakes up confused as to what’s happening when he meets this colony of boys, everything is off to a good start.

And the director’s confidence in that approach carries over into the tense atmosphere, one where the source of the suspense is the vast unknown of the maze itself. For me, the most impressive feat about the film’s central mystery is how it literally unfolds before your eyes with the constant movements and dangers inside that stone cold labyrinth.

When you’ve got shifting panels, winding corridors, closing doors, and biomechanical monsters called Grievers — the ferocious cornerstone of several action sequences — interwoven with an exciting conspiracy centered on why these kids were sent to this location unraveling at a fast pace, there is no denying that the sturdy structure of this film has a good thing going.

But to sustain such a riveting mystery, you need to have characters to propel it, and another enjoyable thing I can say for “The Maze Runner” is that its grip on character development remains taut all the way to the end, thanks to a competent cast.

Dylan O’Brien does a good job in mixing curiosity and bravery together to instill a relatable likeability in Thomas. Following close behind is Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who has this friendly air about him that fits the character of Newt well. And Kaya Scodelario, as the only girl in the group, brings a feisty edge to Teresa.

Supporting turns from Will Poulter as Gally, Ki Hong Lee as Minho, Blake Cooper as Chuck, and Aml Ameen as Alby prove to be effective in solidifying the sense of unity that binds these kids together in their struggle to survive whatever obstacles await them.

When all is said and done, the big question is, where does “The Maze Runner” stand?

Did Wes Ball’s get-to-the-point approach work out? Yes. Did the suspense keep going and never stop? Yes. Was the mystery absorbing and designed to unfold in a cohesive manner? Yes. Was the cast able to convey the stakes their characters faced? Yes.

I must say, I have to hand it to “The Maze Runner” for managing to prove you don’t need to be an A-level film to be a good film. I still don’t think it has what it takes to assume the soon-to-be-vacant throne that “The Hunger Games” currently occupies, but it succeeded in getting the job done and pleasing the crowd — which is what matters most.

Will “The Maze Runner” satisfy its book fans? Well, as much as I’m at a disadvantage here, I think the chances are high. Will it impress the general public? Yes, I should think so. Enough said.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action.

Run time: 1 hour 53 minutes

Playing: In general release