Based on the bestselling novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is a testosterone-fuelled survival thriller cast from the same robust mould as The Hunger Games and Divergent.
Like those dystopian nightmares, Wes Ball’s film centres on naive characters, teetering on the cusp of adulthood, who are forced to make stark choices between life and death to secure freedom.
Only here, adolescent males are trapped in the moral mire and forced to establish a microcosm of self-governing society a la Lord Of The Flies in which the strongest take charge and the meek keep their heads down.
While The Hunger Games and Divergent expended valuable time establishing character back stories and motivations, this opening salvo of The Maze Runner employs a nifty cheat: amnesia.
All of the protagonists are stripped bare of memories including their identity, emerging from the darkness of a lift shaft into an enclosed green space called The Glade as blank slates.
“I can’t remember anything,” whimpers newbie Thomas (Dylan O’Brien).
“You get your name back in a day or two. It’s the one thing they let us keep,” explains Alby (Aml Ameen), the de facto leader, who emerged into this strange prison three years ago.
Gargantuan walls enclose The Glade and every morning, one wall parts to reveal a maze which ‘runners’ like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) map while avoiding hideous denizens called Grievers in the vain hope of finding an exit.
The runners must return before dusk when the wall closes and the maze reconfigures.
Having plucked his name from the fog of his mind, Thomas forges friendships with Alby, second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and runt of the litter Chuck (Blake Cooper), but falls foul of brutish rival Gally (Will Poulter).
Out of the blue, a girl called Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) emerges from the lift.
She woozily claims to know Thomas and paranoia runs rampant...
For the opening hour, The Maze Runner is lean and taut, rattling along at breakneck speed to the beat of composer John Paesano’s propulsive score.
The threat of bloodshed hangs in the air but it’s only when Thomas strays into the labyrinth that the film unveils a surprisingly nasty streak, despatching the good-looking cast in a shockingly cold, clinical fashion.
Director Ball doesn’t succumb to squeamishness or sentimentality: death comes quickly and gruesomely, and the strongest, most noble and endearing characters are prime fodder for the rampaging Grievers.
The film earns its 12A certificate without flinching.
O’Brien and Ameen anchor the young ensemble with fine performances, with sterling support from Lee, Brodie-Sangster and Poulter, the latter fleshing out his punishment-fixated bully with aplomb.
Scodelario is noticeably short-changed but presumably, she will play a pivotal role - from beyond the grave or in the flesh - in next year’s fleet-footed sequel, The Scorch Trials.
Burn, baby burn.