By Jeff Labrecque
September 19, 2014 at 11:15 PM EDT
  • Movie
  • Action Adventure

Expectations for The Maze Runner, the latest YA best-seller turned franchise wannabe, seemed low, so much so that critical faint praise suddenly feels like a ringing endorsement. “Don’t let that YA tag put you off,” says EW’s Chris Nashawaty, in his review. “There isn’t a dying heroine or hunky vampire to be found anywhere in this better-than-average adaptation of the James Dashner bestseller. Just a bunch of confused kids on the run from a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D.“

Based on Dashner’s 2007 post-apocalyptic novel, the first chapter of a trilogy that includes The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, The Maze Runner is about a Lord of the Flies community of teen boys called Gladers who are trapped in a maze by unclimbable walls and lethal, giant spider-like creatures called Grievers. Each month, another boy is deposited within the walls, with no memory of his life before that moment besides his name. But when Thomas (Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien) arrives, his ability as a Runner to safely navigate the maze opens the possibility for escape and the answers behind their mysterious incarceration.

Will Poulter (We’re the Millers) plays Gally, the tribe’s enforcer who’s suspicious of Thomas’ gifts, and Kaya Scodelario (The Skins) plays the pretty girl—the only girl—who’s dropped into their midst and has clues about Thomas’s past. First-time director Wes Ball, a visual-effects guru who was hired on the basis of an 8-minute short titled Ruin, has seemingly accomplished his mission: The Maze Runner is no Beautiful Creatures or The Host. Thomas could live to run another day.

Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“The first two-thirds of The Maze Runner are a clever feat of fantasy world building. It’s thrilling, twisty, and as mysterious as the mammoth Skinner Box environment the film takes place in. But the promising set-up raises so many puzzle-piece questions that when it’s all finally explained in the final reel, you can’t help feeling a bit gypped. Having not read the book, I was hoping for a more satisfying payoff than the one I got.”

Bill Zwecker (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲

“In an age when we are seeing quite a few pieces of young adult literature being turned into big screen films—usually chockablock with the latest examples of computer-generated technology driving the action—it was quite delightful to have watched The Maze Runner, a well-acted and intelligent thriller/futuristic sci-fi romp.”

Claudia Puig (USA Today)

“A sci-fi thriller set in a vaguely post-apocalyptic future must create a fully drawn universe to thoroughly captivate the viewer. But Maze Runner feels only partially formed.”

Richard Corliss (TIME)

“Most Gladers dwell in the grave pessimism of underage Prisoners of War. They have succumbed to the basic precept of POW inertia: that fear breeds caution. There is no rosy future in the Glade’s grim nowness; it is like Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit-tentialism, but more crowded and with the musk of bottled-up testosterone.”

Bilge Ebiri (New York)

“[O’Brien] looks great when he’s totally freaked out. That’s a real talent for a young actor, since most of them are usually too busy acting stoic, hoping to land the next superhero gig. Indeed, the whole cast does an excellent job relaying the urgency of the story.”

Ethan Gilsdorf (Boston Globe)

“Director Wes Ball’s adaptation adds a pinch of Lost and Logan’s Run into the teen-dystopian genre’s hormonal stew. … The neophyte knows how to direct heart-pumping chase scenes and has coaxed surprisingly solid performances from his young ensemble cast, especially O’Brien and Poulter.”

Michael O’Sullivan (Washington Post)

“The sequences inside the maze are viscerally claustrophobic, yet Ball evokes a visual mood that’s closer to the interior of a cathedral. The filmmaker has a knack for chills and thrills, ratcheting up the stakes and excitement every time Thomas … steps inside the maze.”

Sheri Linden (Los Angeles Times)

“Ball tends to slice and dice action sequences in a way that drains them of energy, and his attempts to churn up emotion fall disconcertingly flat. But he does stage a couple of effective adrenaline-pumping chases through the maze’s industrial wasteland.”

Steven Rea (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Maze Runner shares gloomy post-apocalyptic themes with other YA books and films: youth trapped in a claustrophobic, controlling society … It’s bleak business, and as it hurries toward its explosive, expository conclusion, the film becomes nonsensical, too.”

Justin Lowe (Hollywood Reporter)

The Maze Runner’s similarities to well-known literary works and speculative fiction thrillers are almost more reassuring than disconcerting. In fact, it’s this recurrent sense of familiarity rather than any distinct originality that makes the film consistently engaging, although never outright challenging.”

Ella Taylor (Variety)

“More Kristen Stewart than Jennifer Lawrence … Scodelario’s one-of-the-lads brio is a touch wasted here, for Teresa adds little to the story other than to jog Thomas’ memories of whence he came and spur him on to mobilize the troops for a climactic battle…”

The Maze Runner

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 57

Rotten Tomatoes: 61 percent

Rated: PG-13

Length: 114 minutes

Starring Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario

Directed by Wes Ball

Distributor: Fox

  • Movie
  • Action Adventure
  • PG-13
  • 114 minutes
Complete Coverage