“The Maze Runner” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Movies adapted from young adult novels have become quite a common staple in Hollywood culture. Unfortunately, because of this oversaturation of the genre, these films tend to be looked upon with mixed critical attention. With the exception of The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises, the last string of young adult book to films have had less-than-stellar results in the box office. However, the two aforementioned franchises should be expecting some new company in the form of The Maze Runner. Based off of the James Dashner novel of the same name, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, and focuses on the trials and tribulations of a small band of teenagers, in particular a youth named “Thomas” with a mysterious past. The dystopian future backdrop will immediately draw comparisons to films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, but The Maze Runner definitely stands on its own merits and does a great job distinguishing itself from its fellow young adult movie peers.

Thomas is played by Dylan O’Brien who was primarily known for his role in MTV’s hit series Teen Wolf, that is, before The Maze Runner. The young actor definitely has a lot to prove in this role, and fans will be glad to know that he succeeds where it counts most. O’Brien’s Thomas is almost unrecognizable as the young hero, which is rather impressive since it’s not like this role required any heavy special effects makeup, nor did he go through any substantial physical changes for the part (a la Chris Pratt becoming ripped for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy). Rather, O’Brien’s transformation is done through his acting and the character he creates in the story. Everything from his demeanor, personality, and the way he carries himself is different here, and he should readily be praised for those elements alone. O’Brien has a quiet maturity to him, and he juggles elements of innocence with hardened heroism. You can bet that The Maze Runner franchise will serve as a good launch pad for the young actor’s career, and expect to see more of him from here on out.

Getting back to the story: when Thomas wakes up in the beginning of the film, he finds himself in a glade full of young boys such as himself. Thomas has no memory about how he got to the glade, and it takes him a full day before he can even recall his first name. He’s quickly indoctrinated into the ways of the glade–their rules, roles, and leadership hierarchy. Here we meet Thomas’ fellow “gladers”, who have all been cast with relatively unknown and up-and-coming actors. Most notable amidst the bunch are “Alby”, “Gally”, “Newt”, “Chuck”, and “Minho”. Alby is played by Aml Ameen, and is the de facto leader of the gladers. He’s the oldest in the group, and thus has a strong and mature presence about him. Although you might not readily recognize the British-born actor, he’s definitely a successful working actor, having booked roles in films like Lee Daniels’ The Butler and the forthcoming Beyond the Lights. Second-in-command to Alby is Newt, played by fellow British actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Most people will recognize Brodie-Sangster from his recurring role in HBO’s insanely popular series Game of Thrones, as well as his voiceover work as “Ferb” in Disney’s hit animated series Phineas and Ferb. Brodie-Sangster’s Newt, although he looks like the scrawny, nerd type, definitely owns his “second-in-command” title, and convincingly shows that he can command the glade almost as well as Alby can.

Will Poulter plays Gally, and is the unofficial antagonist of the gladers. Poulter, also a Brit (shocker!), will most likely also be fairly recognizable out of the group due in no small part to his breakout role in last summer’s hit comedy We’re the Millers, where he played the fake son to Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis. Poulter’s Gally is a complete 180 from We’re the Millers, and rather than a goofy, awkward kid, his Gally is tough, commanding, and kind of a bully. His American dialect is also flawless, so hearing him speak in these roles, when compared to how he speaks in real life, is always a bit head-turning. Newcomer Blake Cooper plays Chuck, one of the youngest gladers, and also the most nervous and wide-eyed. Although Cooper’s Chuck is a relatively minor supporting character amongst the group, he easily captures your attention and heart, and you can’t help but root for the guy (he’s the film’s loveable underdog in a way). Finally, Minho is played by Ki Hong Lee and is the veteran “maze runner” of the group. He’s also the one who trains Thomas and takes him under his wing. Lee has a great presence on screen, and it’s always great to see young Asian-American talent get more attention in these large studio projects. Ethnic diversity is always a priority in casting and in Hollywood, so it’s great to see these results (although the business still has a long way to go). Lee is already set to come back in the film’s sequel, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, and is also set to appear in the eagerly anticipated indie The Stanford Prison Experiment, opposite Ezra Miller.

Although the male gladers are readily the focus of the film (giving the movie a very Lord of the Flies-esque tone), it’s also important to note the one and only female glader–“Teresa”. Teresa is played by British actress Kaya Scodelario, and although the character isn’t introduced until later in the film, she’s clearly being positioned to have a larger role in the movie’s next installments. Although Scodelario is mostly known for her international work in the U.K., you can expect more and more eyes turning toward her in the coming year–especially when the next Maze Runner film hits theaters in 2015.

Although young adult film franchises clearly cater to a specific demographic, Hollywood tends to always pay special attention to these movies for the sole purpose of tracking new and upcoming talent. This is especially the case for The Maze Runner since its cast is mainly comprised of young and relatively unknown actors that are all on the cusp of breaking out. The film also does something quite different in that the entire narrative and spotlight is truly focused on the young heroes. This differs slightly from fellow YA films The Hunger Games and Divergent, whose leading characters are bolstered by seasoned and recognizable actors. The Hunger Games’ “adult” actors have the likes of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland (to name a few), while Divergent has Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, and Kate Winslet. These types of adult figures don’t exist in The Maze Runner (at least, not in the first film), which is optimal for keeping the focus entirely on the movie’s young cast. The film has already been a huge success in the box office – readily ensuring its sequel options and the continued rise of the actors who survived the first round. On to the Scorch Trials!

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Kyle