It's a mantra for many: films are never as good as the books they're based on (October's exhibit: Gone Girl). But while there's a lot of truth in it, sometimes things work the other way around, and what's on screen is actually better than what is on the page. A case in point is The Maze Runner. James Dashner's young adult source bestseller is stodgy enough in places, but first-time director Wes Ball has turned it into a very watchable survival story where the characters are more interesting than their literary incarnations.
The bewildered Thomas (O'Brien) wakes up in an express elevator and when the top hatch is opened he's 'welcomed' to the Glade, a boys-only camp that's more prison than commune. The Glade is surrounded by huge walls and beyond them is the Maze, filled with deadly creatures called Grievers. It's impossible to find a way out of - plenty of kids have died trying. There are dangers inside the walls, too, with resident hard man Gally (Poulter) taking an instant dislike to Thomas, and paranoia and power struggles aplenty.
New arrivals aren't expected to last that long in the Glade, but Thomas seems to have more smarts and skills than the others initially give him credit for. Has he been sent to help the boys find a way out, or are they better off staying where they are?
Ball's calling card for The Maze Runner gig was a great short called Ruin, and if ever an animated adventure set someone up as the ideal choice to direct a post-apocalyptic/dystopian future mash-up in the great outdoors Ruin was it. Sure enough, Ball delivers. And having brought in $192m and counting on the film's budget of $34m, he has been asked back for next September's sequel, The Scorch Trials. If you watch this, chances are you'll want to see it.
Part Lost, part Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner does a good job at depicting male bravado and insecurity and is grittier than expected. Once again, Poulter (Son of Rambow, We're the Millers, upcoming Irish film Glassland) steals the show as Gally - a character as much victim as bully - but all his co-stars are well-cast and watchable. Refreshingly, there's not a romance in sight.
Ball could have trimmed some dialogue and injected more pace here and there, but many rookie pitfalls are avoided, with the genuine warmth and respect his cast have expressed for him boding well for what they can achieve in the follow-up. They'll be joined in it by Aidan Gillen, Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito and Mud's Jacob Lofland - smart additions for a director whose future is a lot brighter than the characters here. Long may he run.