The most surprising thing about The Maze Runner is that it was made on a budget of only $34 million – but it looks every bit as expensive as a Percy Jackson or Hunger Games, which had roughly three times the budget (even more for Catching Fire). This is because director Wes Ball has a background in visual effects and graphics, which he has clearly drawn on in order to get the most bang for his buck. It would also have helped that the young cast is dominated by unknowns and actors yet to have their big break, so half the budget wasn’t spent on attaching known quantities to the production.
In a dystopian future, a group of teenage boys find themselves trapped in the Glade, a pristine landscape enclosed by an imposing concrete maze on all sides. Once a month, fresh meat is sent to join the ranks – memory wiped and with no idea of why he’s been sent there. The latest greenie is Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), whose curiosity causes him to clash with Will Poulter’s (We’re the Millers) Gally. Poulter continues to enliven the screen with attack eyebrows more fierce than Peter Capaldi’s, but it’s O’Brien who really comes into his own with a confident and assured performance.
During the day, the doors to the maze are open and so the Gladers send runners to try to map it and find an exit. At night however, the doors close and the biomechanical Grievers patrol its walls for any unfortunate souls who didn’t make it out in time. Due to the threat of these monstrosities and the complexity of the maze’s construction, the Gladers have resigned themselves to life in the Glade. Thomas denies this existence, so his entry to the Glade starts a chain reaction that threatens the status quo that Gally has worked hard to protect.
It’s a clever setup that works owing to some strong performances and a dark tone which uses its strongest asset, the story’s sense of mystery, to great effect. It’s this mystery as to the maze that keeps you engaged, plus the exciting action which fulfils the promise of the movie’s title – as long as you can wait out a lot of exposition about the Glade, Gladers, maze runners and the maze. That said, the story’s core weakness is actually the ending, rather the final ten minutes or so; the grand finale leaves many key questions unanswered, involves a ridiculous reveal and boasts a sequel-bait conclusion that fails to fulfil the potential of the film’s premise.
Still, due to its small budget, The Maze Runner is guaranteed to recoup its costs and succeed at the box office. This is especially true since it’s yet another adaptation of a popular young adult novel – the execs at Fox certainly seem to think that they have a winner of their hands and so have already commissioned the sequel, The Scorch Trials. Despite my quibbles, The Maze Runner is a thoroughly enjoyable experience up until its closing minutes and is, at least, one YA series that’s here to stay so may be worth trying to find your way out of after all.