The Maze Runner movie ticks all the right boxes for fans of the book

Director Wes Ball has coolly cut elements of James Dashner's novel that won't transfer to the silver screen, but fans of the best-selling book needn't feel short-changed, says Emma Daly

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James Dashner’s best-selling novel The Maze Runner has had a big-screen makeover and, like the book, no one’s holding your hand through the action.

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It’s the latest work of young adult dystopian fiction to get a Hollywood outing, following the storming success of The Hunger Games and Divergent. As a big fan of Dashner’s books, there’s always the worry a cinematic version will fall short, leaving you clutching the pages of the book and wondering how someone could have imagined it so differently from yourself.

But no such problems here. Well, apart from the fact that I’m 26 years old and perhaps (definitely) too old to consider myself the target market for these sorts of series… 

The story follows a group of young boys trapped inside a maze, with no idea who they are or how they got there. Wes Ball is in the director’s chair for his first big cinematic project. And he’s going in hard. He’s stuck to the rules of Dashner’s book where it works, but anything that doesn’t transfer to the silver screen has been coolly sliced off.

So here Thomas and Teresa aren’t able to silently communicate with each other, while the idea that the word WCKD (also a slight change from the book’s use of WICKED) has something to do with where they’ve come from has already been ascertained – something that takes a long time to come to light in the book. But readers needn’t feel short changed. 

The story feels like it leaps from page to screen, and even though I knew what was going to happen, I sat clutching my own arms as the opening scene chucked viewers into a pitch black lift. You’re plummeting into the maze with Dylan O’Brien (of Teen Wolf fame) as Thomas, and there’s no way of stopping it. Don’t know what shuck-face means? Get on with it. No idea what a Greenie is? Tough luck, kiddo. Just like in the book, you’re along for the ride from the beginning, so hang on tight.

In a welcome twist from recent films of this ilk, there’s a male lead to champion in the form of Thomas. He’s a rule-breaker and, usefully for readers and viewers alike, inquisitive as hell. He soon starts asking a whole lot of questions about his new abode, and bit by bit starts knocking on the door of a feasible escape plan.

A girl is eventually introduced into The Maze Runner in the form of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), but this isn’t a story about young love, lingering looks or unspoken feelings. We’ve already had that in spades. This is about survival, intrigue and questions – for now at least – without answers.

The boys have created a working society in the middle of the maze, with so-called Runners tasked with finding a way out. Will Poulter, recently seen rapping along to Waterfalls in We’re The Millers, turns on the nasty to play one of the first inhabitants, Gally. He deserves more screen time, but what you do get is deliciously brutish. Thomas Brodie-Sangster leaps from kids’ favourite Phineas and Ferb via Game of Thrones to play the leader of the pack, Newt. He gets less attention than in the book, but it’s made clear he’s the natural leader, one to listen to.

The page-turning intensity of the book is there in bucket-loads and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a fair amount of time holding your breath. But don’t expect a neat ending. This is a saga after all. There’s a need to leave things open. Be “ballsy” as Ball rather aptly puts it. You’re left wanting more and luckily, more is on the way.

Check out this RadioTimes.com exclusive look at the making of the maze.

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The Maze Runner is in cinemas from 10th October 2014