The strangest thing about science fiction, a genre famous for catering to the fantasies of daydreaming boys, has been its recent popularity among girls. In both book and movie form, "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" have made billions selling their futuristic heroines to female audiences, while recent boy-oriented movies like "Ender's Game" and "The Giver" have flopped.
Enter "The Maze Runner," Wes Ball's adaptation of James Dashner's 2009 best-seller. Its hero is Thomas (Dylan O'Brien, MTV's "Teen Wolf"), who wakes up in a bucolic meadow called the Glade but has no memory of how he got there. His fellow Gladers -- all male, all equally clueless -- explain that hope for escape is slim: Surrounding them is a towering concrete maze patrolled by spider-like robots called Grievers. Boys known as runners, led by Minho (Ki Hong Lee), map the maze each day, but the concrete walls shift each night.
"The Maze Runner" is chock-full of male bonding, homemade weapons, robot battles, even a tree fort -- just about everything but snails and puppy-dogs' tails. Though it sometimes feels calculated and mechanical, it's also solid, well crafted and entertaining. The maze itself is supercool, an endlessly pivoting puzzle that begs to be explored, and it's inhabited by a remarkably strong cast. Among the standouts are Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt, a friendly kid with owlish eyes, and a terrific Will Poulter ("We're the Millers") as Gally, a boy hardened too soon into manhood. Kaya Scodelaria, as the Glade's most surprising newcomer, Teresa, barely registers but may get more to work with in the future. (Patricia Clarkson, in a small role, lets us know a sequel is coming.)
"The Maze Runner" occasionally ventures into "Lord of the Flies" territory, depicting violence that feels rougher, both physically and emotionally, than the usual PG-13 fare. Frankly, that also may appeal to the movie's target audience. "The Maze Runner" is the first dystopian teen movie in a while that offers boys a room of their own.
PLOT A teenage boy wakes up with no memory of how he became trapped in a giant maze.
CAST Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson
BOTTOM LINE Boys get their own "Hunger Games" in this entertaining teen-dystopia entry.