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The Maze Runner

Year: 2014
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Wes Ball
Writer: Noah Oppenheim/Grant Pierce Myers/TS Nowlin/James Dashner
Cast: Dyland O'Brien, Will Poulter, Thomas Sangster-Brodie, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Aml Ameen

It's easy to dismiss The Maze Runner – along with Divergent, The Mortal Instruments and every other YA adaptation – as just another dystopian world ripped straight from the pages of a hit novel for teens.

To start with, so much about it seems to be trying to brand-associate with The Hunger Games. There's a group of teenagers in a dangerous outdoor arena setting, their alliances shifting and changing as they fight for their lives in a game that seems to be part test, part entertainment for viewers they can't see. There's the techno-fascist state they live under, hinted at but seldom seen. Even the hero is the archetypal rebel you just know is going to smash the system by standing out and not playing by the rules.

Sure, there's no love story (in fact there's almost no female presence at all) and they're not strictly pitted against each other, but the similarities are a bit too visible to ignore. Within those constraints, The Maze Runner is probably the best movie it can possibly be. When Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up to find himself in a metal cage rising through a dank elevator shaft, he doesn't know anything – not even who he is.

It opens at the top to reveal a group of young faces led by Alby (Aml Ameen) and Gally (Will Poulter), who give Thomas a rough initiation into his new surroundings. Their forested home – The Glade – is surrounded by high concrete walls with only one exit that leads to a huge maze outside, and a select few among the Gladers – Runners – penetrate the maze every day to try and map it and find a way out.

They run because every night, the huge concrete doors grumble closed, leaving anyone who gets lost or injured stranded outside until the doors open again the next morning.

And when the sun goes down, the maze outside comes alive with huge insect/machine hybrid monster thingies, the size of a small car and giving us the only clue about the powers outside who are depositing young men in The Glade and keeping them trapped there.

Life is tense but safe, but Thomas is naturally curious and doesn't want to obey the mini fiefdom he's found himself in. Every question he asks and unsanctioned action he takes upsets the balance in The Glade a bit more, and when the metal cage delivers a girl into their midst – and she knows who Thomas is - it only deepens the mystery and makes the play-it-safe Gally distrust him more.

When the group splinters into factions led by Thomas who want to get out and Gally who want to stick to the systematic approach, the action really starts and we get to see the maze, the monsters and beyond in much more detail.

Sustaining the mystery about who's behind it all gives the film something of a Hitchcockian approach, and it makes it interesting enough to stick with as you wait the for curtain to be peeled back, but the last act that should be doing so feels rushed and incomplete, too intent on setting up a franchise rather than telling a story.

We end with a high tech control room full of bodies and a recorded message from an enigmatic scientist (Patricia Clarkson) who's been leading the whole project, but every half-revealed clue seems to have a neon sign attached that says 'to be continued...'

Newcomer Wes Ball's direction is serviceable, as is the young cast. Nobody here's going to win an Oscar, although of everyone Brit actor Will Poulter has something special. His forthcoming film The Revenant - in which he stars with Tom Hardy and Leo DiCaprio - could see him really break out.

After surpassing its $30m budget at the box office on its first weekend, The Maze Runner will inevitably get the sequel the cast and crew were already prepping for.

So if you love it, you'll find out what those half flesh/half machine creatures are, why Thomas keeps having flashbacks about being in some scientific research facility and the answers to many more questions. As long as it can avoid hitching its wagon to allegories about The Capitol, President Snow and Quarter Quells, The Maze Runner might rise above the rest of the YA crowd.

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