The Maze Runner ★★★½

"The Maze Runner" breathes some welcome fresh air into the young-adult, post-apocalyptic science-fiction genre. There is something inherently interesting and engaging about the concept of a community of teenagers trapped in an enormous maze. Instead of putting the viewer in a privileged position, the film gradually reveals the mysteries of the maze to them by means of the protagonists’ discovering new pieces of the puzzle.

The story begins in medias res. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up with nary a memory—it takes a while for him to remember his own name—in an elevator of sorts. When the elevator stops and the doors are opened, he finds himself among a group of teenage boys who are living in what they call the Glade, an area at the center of a huge maze, enclosed by gigantic walls with a single opening that leads out into the labyrinth. Thomas soon befriends some of the other boys in the Glade: Alby (Aml Ameen), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and Chuck (Blake Cooper), the latter of which becomes his closest friend. There’s also Gally (Will Poulter), with whom Thomas doesn’t really get along very well. Just as Thomas begins to adjust to his new life in the community, a strange occurrence involving a girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), changes everything. Teresa’s arrival sets into motion a series of events that spells the end of the group’s relatively peaceful existence in the Glade.

Based on James Dashner’s novel of the same name, "The Maze Runner" tells a young-adult adventure story set in an enigmatic environment that does a good job of keeping the viewer’s attention focused on the goings-on on the screen. The movie contains enough original or at least sufficiently different ingredients to allow it to distinguish itself from similar franchises in the genre. And while screenwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin remain faithful to the tone and spirit of the source novel, they do so without being slavish to it.

Wes Ball’s strengths as a director clearly lie in the action-and-horror department. He delivers action sequences that are both taut and exciting, much to the viewer’s delight. What about horror, then? Well, for one, Thomas’s first encounter with one of the Grievers, the monstrous creatures that roam the maze at night, makes for a really suspenseful and a little creepy scene.

But Ball proves himself capable of handling scenes at the other end of the spectrum as well. At one point in the film, Thomas and Chuck have a beautiful, quietly moving moment together. Thomas is in the Slammer, the Gladers’ jail, overnight; Chuck is on the outside, keeping him company. Thomas ends up promising Chuck that he will help him get back to his parents. The scene in question also has an emotional bearing on a pivotal event at the end of the movie.

Enrique Chediak’s bleak, carefully modulated cinematography and John Paesano’s powerful score go hand in hand with the beats of the story. The forward momentum is consistently maintained by Dan Zimmerman’s effective editing, which ensures a nice pace throughout the proceedings.

As Thomas, O’Brien can’t quite deliver the anchoring performance that "The Maze Runner" needs. It’s a good thing, then, that the supporting cast members, especially Lee and Brodie-Sangster and Poulter, compensate with solid turns.

When the movie was over, I felt thoroughly invested in the characters and their plight, curious to find out what will happen next. "The Maze Runner" doesn’t provide a proper ending, of course, but it does promise a wider narrative scope in the second chapter of the story. Something tells me the running isn’t over yet, though.