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Life can sometimes feel like a maze, with frequent wrong turns and apparent dead ends. But how do you act when you hit one of those dead ends or take the wrong turn? Do you give up or keep running the maze as if your life depended on it? What’s the best response?
The Maze Runner explores these questions through a creative, suspenseful tale brought to life with stellar special effects and solid acting. For those who haven’t read the book on which the film is based, The Maze Runner pushes viewers to the edge of their seats with unexpected twists and turns while communicating positive messages of true heroism, courage, and compassion. Offensive language and a seemingly countless body count, however, take this movie down a dangerous path.
Thomas wakes up in a box-shaped lift that’s shooting upwards. He doesn’t know how he got there, where he is going, or who he is. A monster lurks on the other side of the bars that form the box. Or is it a cage?
Thomas at least finds the answer to that question when the box stops moving and he’s greeted by the faces of teen boys his age. As they laugh at his confused expression and start calling him “Greenie,” Thomas bounces between terror and curiosity.
After the initial frightening moments of his arrival in the strange place, Thomas’s curiosity outweighs his fears as Alby, the leader of the community of boys, gives him a tour of the small plot of land in which they live. It turns out that Thomas’s experience is exactly like that of the other boys. All of them arrived in the box with no memory of anything before. They arrived and woke up to find that they now live in a grassy, wooded patch, surrounded by the walls of a maze.
Yet, Thomas is different from the other boys in nearly all other respects. He’s curious. Where the other boys are content to abide by the rules of their organized community, Thomas has a drive to escape, and the maze seems like his only option.
But only “Runners” are allowed in the maze, and Runners are a chosen few, selected by the community’s leaders. The maze is dangerous. It closes every night and no person left in the maze overnight has ever survived. Undaunted by the danger he’s told about the maze, Thomas still wants to explore it, certain the maze must be the way out.
In the meantime, a recurring dream adds to the mystery of Thomas’s past and the maze. And everything in the boys’ community starts to change. When Thomas is blamed for the changes and increased danger, he has to beat not only the maze but the hostages that have become its victims.
The growth in capabilities of big-budget special effects never ceases to astound. Thanks to CGI, a writer’s wildest imaginings can now become real, or at least as real as the live actors also on the screen. In the case of The Maze Runner, this progress in filmmaking is readily apparent, as the creative and exciting premise is shown to full potential. “Grievers,” monsters that lurk in the maze, are disgustingly real in complicated action sequences, while the maze itself is equally authentic in its ever-shifting changes and dangers.
The actors picked for the lead roles also carry their loads well. Newcomer Dylan O’Brien as Thomas gives a particularly strong performance in a demanding role, while Blake Cooper stands out in his portrayal of the community’s youngest boy and Thomas’s pal.
The impressive production values and excellent script combine to make The Maze Runner highly entertaining and memorable. But given the problems with some of the film’s content, the quality of what audiences will remember is not so resoundingly positive.
One path of The Maze Runner takes viewers in an uplifting direction. Thomas is an unusually laudable character for a popular teen story of this genre, beginning and ending as a nearly unflawed hero. In the face of horrible circumstances, Thomas displays the kind of mature character that any parent would be proud to have their children emulate.
Thomas is courageous, a fighter against evil who only battles in necessary self-defense or the defense of others. He’s gentle and understanding, compassionate even to his enemies, and he consistently risks his life to save others. This natural leader was not always so perfect, however, and when he realizes the dark deeds of his past, he admits and absorbs his guilt with repentance and grief.
[MILD SPOILER WARNING] When teen girl Teresa shows up, Thomas also demonstrates a true man’s character by giving respect, honor, and protection to the young woman. Refreshingly, this story avoids a predictable turn with the girl’s arrival, as no hint of romance develops. Thomas and all of his male companions are realistically too occupied with survival to care about romance and, to their credit, none of the boys view the girl sexually. The young woman, then, is allowed to be an equal person with the boys, able to dress modestly in practical clothing and not sell her body or be objectified because of her gender.
Yet, the admirable content of The Maze Runner arguably ends up leading nowhere, thanks to the film’s detrimentally wrong turns. Thomas and the other characters often let out their frustrations through profanities and obscenities. The offensive language includes several misuses of God’s name, as well as “a--,” “b--ch,” “d--n,” “b--tard,” and “h---.” The latter and the s-word are the most popular foul words in the film and are used quite frequently, including by the youngest boy in the group.
The violence in this film also takes viewers on a dangerous path. The body count is tremendous, with many characters being killed by the Grievers (and thereby the people behind them), while others are dispatched with guns and spears. The shootings and spearing are among the most graphic violence in the film. Viewers see the aftermath of a shooting rampage, with dead bodies lying in spatters of blood, and watch a boy bleed from getting shot and another die with a spear in his chest.
The sequences with the Grievers, on the other hand, are not as gruesome as one might expect, since the action is extremely fast-paced and dimly lit, making it hard to decipher. Still, the victims’ screams are always heard and the creatures themselves are frightening enough to disturb most young viewers.
Worse than the Grievers are the teens who turn on each other. When “stung,” the boys lose their minds as the poison moves through their bodies. Before they eventually die, they become dangerous to anyone in their path, since they will attack those they see. The stung victims spew up blood and their bodies are often bloodied or discolored.
The way the community deals with the stung boys is more disturbing than the poisoned victims’ actions. Favoritism seems to dictate the sentence or care that the stung boy receives, but the lesser-valued ones are banished to the Grievers in the maze, physically forced to face death in an indirect execution by the community.
There’s no significant leap, then, when one character later takes over the community and decides to kill the people he sees as troublemakers. He doesn’t actually fulfill his plan, but his word-choice for this death sentence is revealing. He calls the intended killings an “offering.” This scene and an earlier party at which the boys gather around a sort of burning effigy hint at a superstitious, false religion and rituals that add an extra element of darkness to an already God-less tale.
In the catastrophic world of The Maze Runner, no route leads to God or a truthful understanding of life and survival. Thomas and his companions are on their own in an existence devoid of any power higher than humans and any purpose beyond survival or, at best, sacrifice for others.
Thus, despite glossy production values and a gripping story that leads to a few positive messages, the blasphemy and omission of the One Who is the only true direction will wind up getting viewers nowhere but lost in life’s maze.