A young man wakes up in an elevator. He doesn't know where he is or where he is going. In fact, he doesn't even know his own name.
The elevator stops. When the door opens the boy discovers that he is surrounded by a group of teenage boys in an open air setting. It seems like they have been expecting him. They take him to their base camp. They explain to him that they all arrived in this place the same way - by themselves, with no memories and no instructions. They've built a small community over the months that they've been trapped there and now he's a part of it.
Over the next few days the boy discovers more and more about this place. There is a forest area and a flat field. On the far side of the field there is a giant stone maze that opens and closes on a fixed schedule. He is told by the leader of the Lost Boys that he isn't allowed to go anywhere near the opening of the maze because monsters live in there and he isn't ready to fight them yet. However, he is also told by one of the younger boys that the only potential way out of their confinement is through the maze. Therefore if he is ever going to escape - and boy howdy does he want to escape - he is going to have to get into that maze sooner or later.
Over the next few days tensions begin to build between the new arrival - whose name turned out to be "Savior" I think? But it could also have been "Raze Munner?" Whatever it was, I'm sure it was memorable - and the leader of the Lost Boys, because the kid in charge wants to stay safe in their comfortable field and not risk dying a brutal death in the mouth of a maze monster while Savior Runner wants to get to the bottom of who put them there and why. The situation escalates once Raze Racer begins to rally the younger kids to his side - they can see that he is bold and brave and a natural leader because he has a super strong jaw like a good hero should. Will our confident handsome protagonist conquer the other boys, then the monsters and the maze, then finally the world at large? Well, yes, but only incrementally - after all, they have to leave some obstacles for good old Labyrinth Jogger Jr to accomplish in the sequels.
In other words, the Maze Runner is your standard gritty-YA-novel-turned-blockbuster-franchise movie - there are angsty teens fighting amongst themselves, and adults with secret agendas, and the whole thing is sort of edgy but not too dark. This might sound like faint praise, but the Maze Runner is fairly passable compared to most of it's brethren. It felt less generic than, say, Beautiful Creatures. Unlike, say, Cirque Du Freak: The Vampires Assitant, it didn't reek of unrealized potential; I felt like it told this story about as well as it could be told. But just because it looks good next to it's competition doesn't mean that it is very good on it's own.
The Maze Runner's main problem is that it is far too literal for it's own good. Over and over again it takes what would be subtext in a smarter movie and makes it the text. In real life when teens are transitioning from their childhood selves into their adult selves they often start to lose some sense of who they really are; here they actively get total amnesia. In real life teens often talk about high school as if it was a maze where they have to navigate between complicated social cliques without getting lost in a "dead-end"; here there is a physical maze. In real life teens might feel like the adults around them are pushing them around; here the adults are actually treating the teens like lab rats. This is the sort of movie whose symbolism is so blunt and unmistakeable that I'm so surprised that no one ever looked at our dashing hero as he began as his journey and said "Bro! I think you are on a hero's journey!"
I don't really expect a lot of subtlety from movies that are aimed at people half my age. Still, I think that the Maze Runner's lack of complexity would be condescending even to the average teen. In my mind a good young adult story is kind of like adult literature with training wheels - it might be shorter than your typical classic, or it might be slightly less subtle, but it is still complicated enough to be worth exploring. However, the Maze Runner is basically the movie equivalent of a Big Wheels - a learning vehicle that can't be scaled up. This is the sort of dumb story that's only going to seem dumber as it's audience gets older.
Now, saying anything more about how literal this movie is might be beating a dead horse - after all, I've already explained what this movie is and how I felt about it and I'm sure you get it. But I can't help but think that a movie that is packed with this much blatant symbolism needs to be treated like it was a dead horse. Sure, I've already written a fairly explicit review, but did I really write the most unambiguous review that I could? Because if I didn't, then I didn't rise to the challenge this movie presented.
After thinking about this long and hard I think I've finally found the way to give the Maze Runner the explicitly literal review it deserves: I have to strip away this site's central conceit. You see, every review I write is based around a metaphor - my competition with the cat is existential, not physical. But today I think I need to make this a literal battle. Of course, I'm not going to try to hurt her - that would be barbaric and besides the play by play of that fight wouldn't make for a good piece of writing. But I could force her to compete on my level by putting her thoughts about this movie next to my thoughts about this movie and then asking my audience to decide who is the ultimate winner in the battle of the Cat Vs. Kirk.
So here's what the cat decided to say about this movie after I dropped her on the keyboard:
Ok, that first time didn't work very well - she hit the laptop's mouse pad with one foot, right clicking into the spellcheck menu. Let me try that again:
Alright, I admit: I was cheating that time. I put her paw on one key and then held it down there. (But trust me: her paw was actually involved.)
Now: if you've read this far your mission is clear - you need to tell me which of us is a more eloquent critic. And please render your verdict quickly, because until this fight is settled once and for all I am going to be stuck in an existential maze, always looking for the way out and never finding it. And if there's one thing I've learned from the Maze Runner, it's that being lost in an existential maze is the worst thing that can ever happen to a person, except for being stuck in a literal maze that's full of maze monsters. That's slightly worse, mostly because of the monsters.
Winner: The Cat