MazeRunnercoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2014, 113 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence
20th Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: B+

The Maze Runner is the latest young adult post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel series to make it to the big screen. Directed by relative newcomer Wes Ball (Beginners), the film follows the journey of 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who awakens in an elevator shaft that dumps him in the middle of a grassy field, surrounded by a gigantic stone maze. He’s not the only one, because other teenage boys have been deposited here, and none of them have any memory of who they were before the Maze—they only remember their names.

Like the boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, they establish a society in which some people have authority and the rest function according to jobs that need to be done. They call their society the Glade, and what sets this film apart from others based on young adult sci-fi novels is that there isn’t a romantic interest. It’s all about the boys trying to explore and map The Maze with designated “runners” without jeopardizing their existence by angering whoever or whatever controls the ever-shifting, ever-changing maze.  

MazeRunnerscreenWhy are they there? Why only teen boys? Is it a test? A punishment? A banishment? Are they what remains of a planet that’s been destroyed? Is there a way out? Dramatic questions like these keep the minimal plot not only relevant, but also tense. That and strong acting carry the film, so that when the elevator deposits the first (and only, they’re told) teen girl who was sent with two syringes full of unknown substances, viewers will be ready for a twist and new direction, but not desperately needing them. How will the presence of a girl change things?

Of course, it helps that inside The Maze there are stinging, death-dealing creatures that the boys call Grievers—and which provide the bulk of the film’s action. The point is, while The Maze Runner has a fairly simple trajectory, the concept itself is unique and the characters and their interactions are compelling enough to put the film on equal footing with more complicated cousins like Divergent or The Hunger Games movies.

Among the boys, it’s all much more civil than what Golding served up in Lord of the Flies, with a character named Gally (played by Will Poulter, whom families will recognize as Eustace from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) coming closest to being an antagonist. Apart from the sci-fi violence of the Grievers, I found The Maze Runner a surprisingly milder film than the other teen post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel adaptations—just as good, mind you, but with fewer moments that might make parents cringe.