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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Maze Runner is based on the first novel in James Dashner's best-selling young adult trilogy. The movie, like the book, is a cross between Lord of the Flies, Ender's Game, and The Hunger Games and should appeal to fans of the books and of star Dylan O'Brien (Teen Wolf). There's more strong language ("s--t," "a--hole," "bitch") in the movie than in the book, which featured mostly made up curse words like "shuck" and "klunk." Unlike many other popular teen movies, The Maze Runner doesn't highlight a central romance (at least in this installment), but it definitely includes the same amount of intense violence -- some of it teen on teen, some of it creature on teen, and much of it weapons based. Characters die, and the scenes in which the mechanized Grievers kill the boys are particularly disturbing. Main character Thomas is a strong role model, helping his friends and standing up to authority when necessary. And there are clear themes of teamwork, courage, and friendship.
What's the story?
THE MAZE RUNNER is a dystopian thriller based on James Dashner's best-selling YA book trilogy. The action starts immediately, with an elevator taking a scared teenage guy, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), up into the unknown. When the doors open, he's introduced to the Glade, a mysterious all-boy commune surrounded by an even more mysterious Maze that changes every day and is home to killer mechanized bugs called "Grievers." Every month, the elevator delivers supplies and a new amnesiac resident. None of the imprisoned boys can remember anything but their names, with the newest guy being Thomas. He learns that the Glade residents are divided into groups with specific jobs -- builders, farmers, healers, and the bravest of the group, the runners who go out into the Maze hoping to map it. Thomas' arrival coincides with a series of strange occurrences, the strangest of which is the too-soon arrival of another "greenie," a girl (Kaya Scodelario) who has a note attached to her. ("She's the last one ever.") Realizing that their prospects of surviving without any more supplies are slim, Thomas convinces a small group to face the dangers of the Maze and look for a way out of their bizarre captivity.
Is it any good?
As adaptations go, this one is quite faithful to the book, which should please its loyal readers. But those who haven't read the book may be dissatisfied with the lack of fully developed characters and overly compressed pacing. The story's types and tropes will seem familiar to anyone who's seen other YA-based dystopian movies: the super-precocious protagonist who can do exceptional things (in this case, accomplish in three or four days what the rest of the guys couldn't in two or three years); the sense that the adolescents are pawns of cruel, unfeeling adults; the violence that leaves teens dead; and the idea that no one really knows what's going on. Unlike Divergent and Hunger Games, which explain what happened to the post-apocalyptic society from the start, The Maze Runner is more of a pin-hole mystery -- you find out little by little what's actually happening until the very end, and even then, it's just a primer for a second installment.
O'Brien has always been a standout actor (he routinely steals the show on Teen Wolf). Here he's good at the connections with the other guys, all of whom are played well by the cast of young actors -- particularly head runner Minho (Ki Hong Lee), leader Alby (Aml Ameen), second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the youngest of the Gladers, chubby and charming Chuck (Blake Cooper). The problem is that there's not much depth to the many supporting characters because the movie focuses solely on Thomas, whom the audience doesn't know (he doesn't know himself) but still has to root for, since he's the only one willing to break rules to get out of the Glade. Then there's Scodelario, a nuanced young actress (Wuthering Heights) who's wasted on the tiny role of Teresa, the only girl ever to be sent to the Glade (this isn't Peeta and Katniss or Tris and Four). The action sequences are genuinely heart-pumping (and violent), but the overall story falls a bit flat once it's clear that the Lord of the Flies aspect is secondary to the mystery of who or why these boys are in this horrible prison. Those hoping for a satisfying solution will have to keep their fingers crossed that a second movie will be made ... or just resign themselves to the fact that some of these first books work as standalone stories, and some have to be experienced in their entirety to make sense.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of movies based on dystopian YA novels. Why do you think adaptations like The Maze Runner are so appealing?
For those who've read the Maze Runner book, how does the movie compare? Was it faithful, or did the movie go in a different, unexpected direction? What was left out that you missed, and what was added that you enjoyed?
There's more language in the movie than in the book. Do you think language is as important concern compared to violence and sex? Why or why not?
How did the movie's violence impact you? How does it compare to what you've seen in other, similar movies?
- In theaters: September 19, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: December 16, 2014
- Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario
- Director: Wes Ball
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Book Characters
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, including some disturbing images
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