Film review ‘THE DARKEST MINDS’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

It’s been a while since the last dystopian futuristic sci-fi fantasy in which pretty teens are oppressed by a fascist adult state. To satiate fans of that genre we now have The Darkest Minds, an adaptation of Alexandra Bracken’s young adult novel.

The film takes us into an unspecified future where a strange malady has caused some children to develop X-Men-like powers while other youngsters have mysteriously died. Fearing the teens’ powers, the US government, led by President Gray (West Wing’s Bradley Whitford) has locked them away in camps. Here, the youngsters are classified and colour-coded according to their abilities which range from level green, expanded intellect through various powers like telekinesis up to oranges who are capable of mind control. At the story’s centre is sensitive teen Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) who, upon being discovered as an orange is marked for death but manages to escape the camp and join a resistance group of teen fugitives led by Liam (Harris Dickinson) who of course looks like a male model and after few a seconds of antipathy toward Ruby, becomes her love interest.

Apart from a few confrontations with bad guys whose nefarious intentions are completely obvious to the audience but not to the supposedly psychic-powered Ruby, not much else happens. There are a couple of reasonably impressive displays of mutant powers but we’ve seen this done much better in the X-Men films. On a technical level the film has been competently constructed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (who directed the last two Kung Fu Panda films) although it occasionally has the bland look of a tele-movie. Add to that some clunky dialogue, slow pacing and cringeworthy use of music and The Darkest Minds is little more than a cheesy teen romance and empowerment fantasy with a few post-apocalyptic trappings. There’s a vaguely emotional element here that recalls Endless Sunshine of The Spotless Mind but this film is a universe away from insight and inventiveness of Michael Gondrey’s movie.

The film’s depiction of a world in which teens are classified according to colours is an obvious reference to racial and cultural division while the attempts at ‘curing’ the mutant teens have resonances of those sinister camps where religion is used to try to turn gays straight. These weightier issues aren’t explored in enough depth, though and too quickly give way to the limp teen romance. There’s precious little explanation of how the teens developed these powers although this may have been an issue for an intended by unlikely sequel.

Stenberg is an amiable and sympathetic but not particularly inspiring hero while too many of the other characters are simply dubiously pretty teens. There’s nothing jarringly awful about this film – it’s certainly not a squawking turkey like The Host – but it’s no Hunger Games either.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Young adult/ sci-fi/ romance.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jennifer Yuh Nelson.

Release date: 16th Aug 2018.

Running time: 105 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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