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The Maze Runner movie review

maze runner poster bigI’m a sucker for a good secret. The Maze Runner is all about secrets.

If you’ve read James Dashner’s novel, seeing the Twentieth Century Fox movie (September 2014; PG-13) is a completely different experience than it would be if you were new to the story. Instead of wondering how a gaggle of teenaged boys ended up trapped in a clearing surrounded by a constantly changing maze with their memories wiped, you wonder how director Wes Ball will handle all the information that the book gradually reveals.

The movie keeps the essence of the book as well as many of its details; the sense of confusion at the beginning is particularly well-rendered. Most of the significant changes are to elements that worked well in the book but would have been difficult to execute onscreen. Unsurprisingly, since the characters’ minds have been altered, much of the novel takes place on a mental level. Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) communicate through telepathy, which doesn’t happen in the movie. In the book, code-breaking plays a bigger role, which might’ve felt dull on film.

But the biggest change is in how the story’s secrets are filtered through Thomas’s mind. Neither the book nor the movie is the sort of post-apocalyptic story whose characters think everything is as it should be because they’ve never seen a better way, though some residents of the Glade are satisfied that the order they’ve established is the only safe option. These characters know that someone is deliberately sending them to the Glade one by one. They just don’t know who or why. If you encounter the story first through the book, you’re likely to spend much of it feeling like questions are being dangled in front of you. Book Thomas has an overwhelming sense that the Glade is familiar and hides this feeling from the other Gladers, which leads to suspicion between them and him. Though the movie Gladers suspect that Thomas holds an important role in their situation, all we hear from Thomas is what he tells them — the secrets he’s keeping from them are not revealed verbally. (The movie forgoes voiceovers and similar devices.) Instead, we see flashes of memory as Thomas sees them, first very briefly and then in more depth when he takes risks to pursue more information. Although these flashes don’t give many details, they do show the setting of Thomas’s memories very early on, giving a major clue as to how everyone arrived in the Glade. Instead of dangling questions, the movie dangles bits of the answers.

A few plot points are eliminated for the sake of pacing, and the ending is structured a little differently, but the general story arc is preserved. So are the important characters’ personalities, with a couple of notable exceptions. First, hardened-but-ultimately-loveable leader Alby (Aml Ameen) is a softie throughout the movie. More importantly, what happened to Teresa? The novel’s only girl in the Glade comes in with useful information and figures out quite a bit, as befits the super-intelligent character she’s meant to be. Movie Teresa still shows up with a note in her hand declaring her to be the last arrival and still remembers Thomas’s name, but most discoveries that are hers in the book come instead from Thomas in the film. As the first Glader to show enough curiosity to bend the rules, Thomas has agency coming out of his ears. The movie could easily have let Teresa keep her more useful lines and still let its main character come off as the hero.

O’Brien and Scodelario play Thomas and Teresa with an appropriate sense of determination, and though some of the Gladers deliver exposition more smoothly than others, the movie is well-cast overall. Blake Cooper is perfect as guileless Chuck.

For a movie whose characters keep saying, “Everything is going to change,” The Maze Runner keeps most of the important things the same.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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