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THE MAZE RUNNER: 3 ½ STARS. “look forward to The Maze Runner 2: Electric Boogaloo”

the-maze-runner01The story in “The Maze Runner” is based on a dare. When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is dropped into a mysterious walled world where a society of boys have grown up in the shadow of a giant labyrinth, he is told, “Don’t go in the maze.” Of course he does, because that’s like telling a teen, “Don’t go through that door,” in a horror flick.

The setting is bucolic. A large open green space, dotted by trees, huts built of logs and gardens. The only thing out of place is a large metal elevator that once a month belches to life, bringing supplies and a “greenie” to the surface. These young men arrive with their memories wiped clean, unaware of where they are or why they were brought there. The latest newbie is Thomas (“Teen Wolf’s” Dylan O’Brien), a rebellious young man who doesn’t quite fit into the well ordered life the other boys have created in their walled-in world.

He wants to escape; to become a Maze Runner and see if there is a way to navigate through the ever-changing labyrinth—and its evil guardians the Grievers—that stands between them and whatever is happening on the outside world. When the elevator deposits a girl (Kaya Scodelario) with a note clutched in her hand, “She is the last one,” in the midst, it seems like the time has come to take on the maze.

“The Maze Runner” is based on a series of wildly popular young adult books—so yes, you can look forward to “The Maze Runner 2: Electric Boogaloo” coming soon to a theatre near you—and takes a backwards approach to the storytelling. Here the characters are cyphers with no knowledge of their pasts, so they create personas based on their abilities in the camp. Very “Lord of the Flies.” It’s interesting though, in that unlike most original stores we don’t have to spend much time getting to know the characters, where they came from or what their inner torment is. They don’t know and neither do we. Instead they concentrate on the present—their present—and survival. Imagine if the reality show “Survivor” was set in a world surrounded by an impenetrable maze and the only way to get voted off the island was to be eaten by a giant, mechanical Griever beast.

The immediacy of the story serves it well to a point. Eventually the whole crew, or most of them anyway, attempt the maze at which point the film becomes a standard 3D sci fi chase flick—Watch out for that Griever!—but there are twists and turns to keep things moving along and perfectly set the story up for a sequel.

The movie is buoyed by strong performances from Will Poulter as a young guy content to stay within the walls of his mysterious prison and Dylan O’Brien, who gives the movie its prerequisite heartthrob appeal.

“The Maze Runner” makes comments about the dangers of conformity and the virtues of bravery and loyalty and does appear to be headed into some twisty-turny territory should the next part of the story get made.

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