‘The Maze Runner’ Review: A Case of the Runs

The Maze Runner is one of the most accurate titles we’ve seen in a very long while. There’s a maze in it, for one thing, and it hits the ground running from frame one, only stopping at the end when it hits a wall made of 100% pure stupid.

Based on the young adult novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner begins with our hero, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), in an elevator rapidly escalating past snarling monsters until it unloads him in a leafy glade populated by various lords of the flies. This all-male community seems to have carved out a peaceful existence at the center of a giant labyrinth which opens every morning, closes every night, and sometimes kills the various cardiovascular demigods they send racing out into its mysteries to locate an exit. 

The no-nonsense screenplay (even though it’s mostly nonsense) dishes out one head-scratching enigma after another: the walls of the maze move every 24 hours, they’re filled with deadly monsters no one has ever actually seen called Grievers, no one can remember who they were before they were deposited into the labyrinth and for some reason no one responds romantically or even sexually when their unseen captors finally send a gorgeous young woman into their midst (Kaya Scodelario) after three years of enforced celibacy and/or homosexuality.

Related: The 11 Toughest Movie Mazes

It feels like a teen rip-off of “Lost,” and that’s no bad thing for a while. Director Wes Ball keeps the information and action moving quickly, even breathlessly, making it hard to notice just how silly his movie really is. For most the running time (pun intended) The Maze Runner is a solid video game movie that just happens to be based on a book. It’s too busy dashing through awe-inspiringly large side-scrolling levels of the titular maze and trying to solve the various dastardly puzzles of the plot to pause long enough to take stock of its contrivances. 

Too busy, that is, until The Maze Runner reaches its Aperture Science conclusion, answering its various questions with one laughable revelation after another, and filmed with what we can only assume is unintentional hilarity. It’s as though the filmmakers decided at the last minute to abandon their respectable “Outer Limits” aesthetic and resort to tacky melodramatic Hail Mary passes, frantically trying to ring one lonely teardrop from an audience that before this was probably intellectually involved enough to forgive the film’s lack of serious emotion. And then it insults their intelligence.

It’s been a while since an otherwise capable, even rousing genre film has been this completely obliterated by its own conclusion. (Comparisons to High Tension, The Forgotten and Knowing are inevitable.) But it doesn’t stop being fun, it’s just suddenly fun for all the wrong reasons. The Maze Runner is an excitingly straightforward sci-fi deathtrap that could easily be enjoyed on its own merits until it does an about face and climaxes in ironic detachment. It’s an a-maze-ingly wrongheaded conclusion to what could have been a solidly entertaining b-movie.

William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.