‘The Maze Runner’ review: Intriguing mystery and solid characters make this a must-watch

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'The Maze Runner' review: Thomas Sangster-Brodie (Newt), Dylan O’Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) and Lee Ki Hong (Minho) in The Maze Runner
Thomas Sangster-Brodie (Newt), Dylan O’Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) and Lee Ki Hong (Minho) in The Maze Runner

Movie synopsis

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a cage lift with no memory of anything except his name. He’s brought up to a Glade and finds a group of other boys like him, without memories of their past lives, already living there, and trapped in a Maze they haven’t been able to break out from. Thomas’ arrival disrupts the routine of the boys’ lives as events are set in motion that create more urgency for them to find a way out of the Maze, which splits the group into two factions: Those who’re willing to risk their lives to escape, and those who want to cling on to what they have in the Glade and survive. Based on the popular YA book series by James Dashner.

The Maze Runner review in a nutshell

Full of mystery, action and characters you’re rooting for.

Would I recommend you watch it?

If you like mystery, action and likable characters, it’s a no-brainer. It’s one of the better YA film adaptations out there. (The second and third films aren’t as great, but you might want to watch them anyway to get answers to all your questions.)

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch The Maze Runner.

Or continue reading for a full review with some spoilers.

Full review of The Maze Runner (with some spoilers)

The Maze Runner is another book series that I didn’t read. The synopsis for the first book had sounded intriguing, but the sequels sounded significantly less so, so I decided not to start. I went into the movie with little idea of what to expect, except a generically good time — and came out extremely impressed. Of all the YA genre film adaptations I’ve seen, I’ll rank this slightly below, or perhaps even on par with The Hunger Games, but above Divergent.

An intriguing mysterious plot

First of all, the mystery factor in the plot. A boy with no recollection of anything, not even his name, wakes up in a cage which brings him up to a Glade where he is greeted by a ton of other boys. They have all been transported there just like him, once a month for the past three years, but none of them know why they’re there.

The Glade is surrounded by a huge Maze that closes every night and opens again in the morning, and only the strongest and fastest in the makeshift society, called “Runners”, are allowed to go into the Maze to map it and try to find a way out. Shelob-like mechanical monsters called “Grievers” lurk in the Maze at night, and those who get trapped in there overnight don’t survive — but you can guess who bucks the trend.

The Gladers gathered at the entrance of the Maze
The Gladers gathered at the entrance of the Maze

So instead of the straight up “overthrow the evil overlords”/“fight each other to death” trend of YA dystopian novels, the focus is more on discovering what on earth is going on and why they have been put there — kind of like Lost meets Lord of the Flies. Which is what makes The Maze Runner stand out. The mystery is intriguing, but not just that; you also want all the boys to band together and get out of there alive. There wasn’t a single boy that I rooted against, not even Gally, the seemingly nastiest of them all (played by Will Poulter, whose naturally antagonistic face is perfect for the role). They are victims of their circumstances, and it’s understandable how their fear of the unknown would result in hostility towards Thomas, our protagonist, who has upset the status quo.

Gally (Will Poulter) and his fellow Gladers react to the dangers and mysteries of the Maze
Gally (Will Poulter) and his fellow Gladers react to the dangers and mysteries of the Maze

Plus the movie ends with another big mystery, which means I’m going to start on the books now, since the film is so well done.

Strong, likable characters

Secondly, the strong characters. Thomas is played by Dylan O’Brien, who has a huge following due to his role on this massively popular youth-targeting show called Teen Wolf. I don’t watch Teen Wolf, but I like him a lot in The Maze Runner; so much that I was tempted to start on that show just to see more of him. (Though I ultimately decided not to — it’s not my type of show.)

He reminds me of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, and that’s the highest praise I can give to the lead of a YA film adaptation. There’s a scene at the very end where he is shell-shocked and grieving and the camera stays on him the whole time as he is dragged away, and then later recollects his senses when they emerge into open air and he turns around on his own and stumbles in a daze to where help is waiting — it was so believable. He wasn’t acting then, he was Thomas.

Dylan O'Brien as Thomas in The Maze Runner
Dylan O’Brien as Thomas in The Maze Runner

And it’s not just him who carries the show — the ensemble cast is great. There’s Minho, the chief of the Runners who happens to be Asian, but isn’t a stereotype or a minor character — he’s just a character, and a substantial one. And it’s so refreshing to have an Asian play a strong role that is usually given to another white character, so kudos to James Dashner for writing it. Also, this is Lee Ki Hong’s first major feature film role, which makes it doubly impressive how well he pulled it off. (I refuse to call him Ki Hong Lee, because that is *not* his name. Westerners should learn to pronounce Asian names correctly.) I believe his only experience in acting before was as a YouTube star.

Lee Ki Hong (Minho) and Dylan O'Brien (Thomas) in The Maze Runner
Lee Ki Hong (Minho) and Dylan O’Brien (Thomas) in The Maze Runner

Thomas Sangster-Brodie (Jojen Reed in Game of Thrones, Liam Neeson’s son in Love Actually) is in it too as Newt, one of the leaders of this society of teenage boys. He’s so baby-faced that this is his first role since becoming an adult that I feel he actually looks appropriate in.

Kaya Scodelario is the only girl in the main cast — she plays Teresa, the first girl and last person to be brought up to the Glade by the cage, and who wakes up with Thomas’ name on her lips, adding to the whole mystery. As such, she cannot help but be overshadowed by the strong cast of boys, though her character is written to be tough too.

'The Maze Runner' review: The Gladers gather to see the new arrival in The Maze Runner
The Gladers gather to see the new arrival in The Maze Runner

I love it when a movie surprises me. I wasn’t excited about this movie coming out — I don’t even recall watching the trailer — and it’s just a happenstance that I caught it on the first day it was released. And boy, I’m glad I did!

Where to watch The Maze Runner

Streaming services: The Maze Runner is on Netflix Singapore, but not Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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