A Novel by James Dashner | A Film by Wes Ball
One of the advantages a book has over a movie is in its ability to be more complex, to have the time and space to explain something that would be difficult to convey in the span of around two-hours. But The Maze Runner film has speed on its side. Director Wes Ball deftly strips away the more labyrinthine elements from James Dashner’s engaging novel and streamlines it, creating a quick-moving and visually arresting film that improves on the book.
THE PLOT: A teenager wakes with no memory to find himself trapped within a mysterious walled colony populated solely by other amnesiac boys and surrounded by a deadly and seemingly unsolvable maze.
THE OPENING: The first five minutes of The Maze Runner sets up the story perfectly, and is mostly faithful to the book’s opening. We see a fast rising metal cage, and then Thomas on the ground, hacking and trying to stand* (In the book he begins his new life already “standing up,” which seems a curious choice to me now—is it a meant to be a defining character trait or some intent on the part of the creators?). Confused and afraid, he yells out for help. In a jump scare new to the film, he’s startled by the low snarl of some porcine beast—readers will know it as just a pig along for the monthly supply run. The cage opens to bright light, slowly revealing the other young, Henley-wearing males awaiting, and soon taunting, their newest recruit in The Glade. After helping him out of “the box,” a terrified but defiant Thomas takes a fitting departure from the book—he runs. “We have a runner!” someone shouts, right as Thomas loses his footing and falls hard. He begins to stand and then slowly looks around, seeing for the first time as we do, the four imposing walls the surround him and his new home. Then bang, title credit. It’s a good start.
THE CAST: It’s easy to want to underplay the casting of one of the stars of a hit MTV show for a movie based on a popular YA novel, but Dylan O’Brien was a real find for the roll of Thomas. Possessing a rare emotional depth, he did an amazing job conveying the character’s confusion and fear but you also easily buy him as a natural leader. His scenes with Chuck are heartbreaking. The rest of the cast is also impressively solid. All of the characters in the book are accounted for, though Zart and Frypan The book’s general character descriptions match up surprisingly well with most of the main actors cast. Aside from Chuck (Blake Cooper), who you always knew would stay “short and pudgy,” Alby (Ami Ameen) is “dark-skinned,” Minho (Ki Hong Lee) is Asian, and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is taller than Alby but looks younger and has an accent—in this case, British. So there’s definitely a respect for the book early on. Gally (Will Poulter) doesn’t have black hair and a “nose like a potato,” but with his high arching eyebrows and beady eyes, he easily looks the part of the bully you want to punch in the face. But departing from the more villainous caricature in the book, the actor manages to make Gally sympathetic, a realist who has legitimate suspicions of Thomas and who insists on abiding by the rules of the Glade. As the only girl in the Glade, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is fittingly beautiful, although her dark features are similar enough to Thomas’s, that along with the known telepathic connection that was dropped from the film, makes me wonder if maybe they’re siblings. We’ll have to wait for the rest of the series to know for sure.