'The Maze Runner': What the Critics Are Saying

Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Patricia Clarkson star in Wes Ball's adaptation of the James Dashner book

Visual effects artist Wes Ball makes his directorial debut on Friday with The Maze Runner — the post-apocalyptic YA action film that follows a teenager who wakes up in a region with roughly 50 other boys and is surrounded by a deadly maze. He has no memory of his past and does not know why he has been brought there.

Free of romance, the male-targeted adaptation of James Dashner's popular series features a racially diverse cast (in text and onscreen) of archetypal male characters, played by Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper and Dexter Darden, along with Kaya Scodelario and Patricia Clarkson. The Fox title is expected to open to a strong $30 million-plus debut.

Read what top critics are saying about The Maze Runner:

The Hollywood Reporter's Justin Lowe notes that the film seems concerned more with "quickly launching a film franchise than developing a substantive long-form narrative," though it is "consistently engaging, although never outright challenging." Director "Ball competently styles the action sequences throughout the film and capitalizes on his VFX expertise with pulse-pounding scenes tracking the Runners through the Maze battling Grievers," despite "some uneven handling of the cast."

Progatonist Thomas "becomes a bundle of instincts and impulses, dominated by a restless curiosity that O’Brien expresses rather realistically," Scodelario "gets quickly relegated to sidekick status," and, "lacking in backstory, most of the sizable supporting cast has scant opportunity to build character, although Brodie-Sangster and Poulter are better differentiated as Thomas’ advocate and antagonist, respectively. Clarkson barely registers in the film’s final scenes, and Lee’s Minho character gets drastically shortchanged; a significant slip-up considering his integral role investigating the mystery of the Maze."

Ben Kenigsberg of The New York Times  calls it "a perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes, [as] it combines elements of Lord of the Flies with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to The Hunger Games experienced through a dissociative fog. … Yet by keeping its cards so close, The Maze Runner remains compelling." Visually, "whatever cataclysm has ailed society has inspired the cinematographer to bathe everything in bluish gray," and narratively, "the dime store explanations are unsatisfying, but the movie does its main job: raising curiosity for a sequel."

The Los Angeles Times' Sheri Linden says the film "gets the vision and the grit of the source material but finally feels more like a long trailer than an involving movie." However, with production design that evokes "a vivid, earthy rendering of Dashner's imagined world" and wide-screen cinematography that emphasizes "the boys' place in the terrible scheme of things," Ball "does stage a couple of effective adrenaline-pumping chases through the maze's industrial wasteland. Notwithstanding the assumed tech capabilities of the Glade's unseen string-pullers, The Maze Runner puts a refreshingly primitive slant on dystopia."

The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan writes that it's "visually stylish, suspenseful and original. … The sequences inside the maze are viscerally claustrophobic, yet Ball evokes a visual mood that’s closer to the interior of a cathedral. The filmmaker has a knack for chills and thrills, ratcheting up the stakes and excitement every time Thomas steps inside the maze." The worst thing about the film is that it ends on "one heck of a cliffhanger. If the theater had been selling tickets to the next installment of the dystopian thriller, I would have bought one before I left the lobby."

On the other hand, USA Today's Claudia Puig gives the film just two out of four stars, noting that it "adds nothing special to the surfeit of dystopian thrillers based on young-adult books of late. … If historians in future generations look at current films as emblematic of our culture, they'll deduce we lived in a civilization with a morbid fear of the apocalypse. That may well be, but Hollywood suffers more from a rabid desire to cannibalize, copy and repeat. … [It] should have focused more on effectively establishing its premise, instead of being diverted by the story's franchise potential."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee