THE LATEST adaptation of a post-apocalyptic young-adult novel, The Maze Runner is serviceable if not game changing. Based on the first in author James Dashner's trilogy, it bears close resemblance to The Hunger Games: It concerns teenagers subjected to violent tests of survival by a mysterious and cruel adult-run system, and it features a central hero who humbly discovers he's exceptional. Like Games' Katniss, Runner's Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) is a YA chosen one, a good-looking noble type of the sort normal young Westerners gamely identify with.
In Runner, a group of boys are inexplicably trapped in "the Glade," a pastoral patch of earth surrounded by the high walls of a maze. An elevator arrives monthly carrying a new boy, each of whom carries no memory. The maze walls automatically close each night, preventing spider-like monsters called "Grievers" from attacking—a sting from one induces memory retrieval and madness. Upon Thomas' arrival, though, things in the Glade begin to change, including the elevator's next delivery, which isn't another boy, but a girl (Kaya Scodelario).
With a few nail-biting action scenes and convincing world creation, director Wes Ball's adaptation hits the ground running. (He's a natural fit, having gained a cult following with the similarly post-apocalyptic 2011 short film Ruin.) The film's central mystery proves more satisfying than its emotional heft, however. Characters are generally likeable but simple, and their relationships feel somewhat rote, broken up by obligatory blasts of melodrama.
Nonetheless, Runner is an entertaining twister, ending with the beginning of its inevitable sequel. Despite moments of heavy handedness and genial naiveté, one can't resist wanting to see where its next chapter will lead.