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Ending of intriguing ‘Maze Runner’ is a puzzle

Dale Roe
With the help of fellow residents of the Glade, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien, center) devises an escape plan in “The Maze Runner.”

You’ll know a little bit about “The Maze Runner” — more than the characters know, anyway — after the first few minutes. By the end of the movie, once they’ve caught up to you, you’ll know just as much as them, which turns out to be very little.

And I can’t tell you everything I know about it, because (spoiler alert) that would spoil it for you.

Are you confused yet?

The dystopian science fiction/action film (an attempt to create a new, young-adult franchise based on the trilogy by author James Dashner) plays out like a fairly adept mash-up of television shows such as “Lost” and “The Prisoner” and movies including 1997’s low-budget “Cube”: A group of strangers find themselves isolated in a compound with no memory of who they are or how they got there. The lost souls of “The Maze Runner” are almost exclusively teenage boys.

“The Glade,” as its residents call the surprisingly lush area they occupy, is surrounded by a huge concrete maze. Each morning, massive stone walls part to allow entry into the maze. And each morning for almost three years, the residents of the Glade have sent in a pair of “runners” to explore and map the structure (even though its internal walls shift nightly). If they fail to return before the entryway slams shut at dusk, they are subject to the wrath of the “grievers,” large flesh-and-machinery, scorpion-like creatures that hunt them.

No runner, we’re told, has ever survived a night in the maze.

The boys inhabiting the Glade have formed a primitive society. In addition to running the maze, they build structures, adjudicate disputes and grow food. Their nourishment is aided by a monthly delivery of supplies from an elevator shaft that comes up through the middle of the compound — a delivery that always brings another new boy along for the ride.

That’s where we meet Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) in the film’s opening, careening up the shaft in a huge metal cage as he suffers flashbacks of what seems like some sort of sinister medical and psychological experimentation.

While many of the Glade’s inhabitants are content to merely survive (“this is our home now” is a common refrain), Thomas wants to find a way out and to discover who put him there and why. He runs into the maze one night as the walls are beginning to close in an effort to save a runner and the group’s leader, who have failed to return.

A piece of technology Thomas retrieves on his journey begins to unravel the maze’s mysteries.

The film is fine up until this point. O’Brien and his fellow young actors play their parts well, especially Blake Cooper as Chuck; Ki Hong Lee as a runner, Minho; Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt; Will Poulter as Galley; and Aml Ameen as group leader Alby (Kristen Stewart look-alike Kaya Scodelario is given little to do as Teresa, the only female in the group, except to look like Kristen Stewart).

The society is interesting in its simplicity. The maze is intriguing, the creatures are terrifying and the action scenes are of the “stuff whipping around and moving so fast it’s hard to tell what’s going on” variety.

But, when the maze’s mysteries are unlocked and the script takes its predictable turn, it feels like a cheat. As in “Lost,” we find out what’s been going on, but not exactly why. On top of that, we’re led to question the explanation’s veracity. Finally, the clumsy set-up for a sequel is kind of insulting.

“I wish I would have known I was only going to see half a movie,” another critic said to me on the way out of the screening.

I think we’ve actually seen only about a third.

‘The Maze Runner’