In the opening scene of The Maze Runner, our uniquely special protagonist Thomas wakes up on a zooming elevator with his mind wiped clean of memories. Understandably, he's pretty freaked out, and every time he asks one of the other boys what's going on, they just reply, "I don't know." The disorientation isn't necessarily bad, though: Our critic Bilge Ebiri wrote, "Not knowing anything about The Maze Runner... isn’t a bad way to see The Maze Runner." But for those of you who like to know what's in the pie before you eat it, I took the liberty of reading The Maze Runner, its prequel The Kill Order, and watching the movie to give you the lowdown on what to expect. (Mild spoilers in the service of trying to figure out what the hell is going on.)
What's The Maze Runner?
For total newcomers, here's the trailer:
That explained nothing. Is this just more YA dystopia?
Sort of. The Maze Runner is based on a book by James Dashner of the same title published in 2009, and it's your typical "young people trying to outwit an authoritarian regime" story. In The Maze Runner, a group of 50 amnesiac boys live in a clearing (called the Glade; they're called Gladers) that is in turn surrounded by an intricate maze. Roaming around the maze are Grievers — half goopy spider, half machine creatures — which can kill you. The boys refer to the people watching them as the "Creators."
So, why are they running?
Basically: It's their job. Each boy's identity is determined by his task (building, animal husbandry, etc.), and some of them are "runners," that is, those who explores the surrounding maze to find a way out. They have to return by sundown lest they be trapped in the maze. No one has survived a night in the maze.
Is there a world outside of the maze?
Why, yes! In the prequel, The Kill Order, Dashner explains how the apocalypse happened: Sun flares scorched the Earth, irradiating the surface and melting the ice caps, thereby flooding major coastal cities (bye, New York). But there were more survivors than resources, so the acting governmental body, known as the Post-Flares Coalition, based in Alaska, decided to release a virus targeting the brain as a way to reduce the population. They shot entire villages with darts containing the virus — confusingly called the Flare — that killed people fairly instantaneously. But as viruses are wont to do, the Flare mutated and became communicable to the point where basically everyone who came into contact with someone who had it got infected. It acted differently on the newly infected and made them slowly lose their minds.
So, how does this connect to The Maze Runner?
Well, there were some kids who were immune to the Flare, which makes them special (the No. 1 character requirement for any YA hero). At the end of The Kill Order, Thomas and Teresa are two of those kids. The kids are being studied as they're in the maze for the ostensible purpose of finding a cure for the virus.
Still don't really get why they're in a maze, though.
Yeah, it's a movie, go with it.
Who is our protagonist?
Thomas. Fun fact from the books: The Creators named all of the kids after scientists. So Thomas is named after Thomas Edison, Newt after Isaac Newton, Gally after Galileo, etc. (Minho is supposed to represent the future, or something.)
Why is there only one girl?
In a video Q&A, Dashner said, "The Maze Runner series was always about variables ... Having a society of boys, and then having it disrupted by a girl suddenly appearing just seemed like a really cool dynamic for them." From our perspective, it's just very evidently a book written by a male author.
Is this a love story?
Nope. Romantic considerations are low on the list of priorities for these kids.
Will I still have questions after I watch the movie?
Absolutely. Honestly, I'm still not sure why they're in a maze.