Review – YA sci-fi ‘The Darkest Minds’ is not enough to revive the genre

Poster for 2018 YA sci-fi movie The Darkest Minds

Genre: Sci-Fi
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 10th August 2018
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Patrick Gibson, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Bradley Whitford
Synopsis: A mysterious disease kills off 90% of the world’s children, while the remainder are kept in controversial isolation, having developed strange and dangerous abilities.

 

 

Remember YA movies? A few years ago, you couldn’t walk through a cinema without being assailed by posters featuring ‘chosen one’ protagonists navigating a dystopia, from maze runners to hunger gamers and even a bizarrely 15-rated one starring Chloe Grace Moretz. The wave has now transformed into little more than a trickle, and so it feels a little weird to see The Darkest Minds limping into cinemas as an adaptation of the first novel in Alexandra Bracken’s YA series. It’s more than a little generic and desperately derivative of the YA adventures that have come before, but that doesn’t prevent it from being an interesting ride.

The film opens with an involving prologue, in which Amandla Stenberg‘s Ruby delivers a voiceover, describing the pandemic of an illness that only effects children. Before long, 90% of the world’s kids have been killed off, while the remainder have been imbued with strange powers ranging from super intelligence to telekinesis and the ability to control fire and electricity. These kids, who terrify the surviving adults, are thrust into camps and segregated by their powers, with the most ‘dangerous’ children simply executed. Ruby is classified as a potentially lethal ‘orange’, but has the presence of mind to pose as an incredibly intelligent ‘green’ in order to avoid death.

That’s the setup of The Darkest Minds, which quickly becomes more of a road trip than a prison movie. Ruby joins a ragtag bunch of escaped kids, with varying levels of power, and they soon work out that she is the most powerful among them. They head to a quasi-mythical refuge on a fraught journey, being pursued by the ridiculously bewigged Gwendoline Christie as Lady Jane. The chemistry between the leads is easygoing and enjoyable, with the blossoming romance between Stenberg – who cut her YA teeth as Rue in the original Hunger Games – and Harris Dickinson‘s telekinetic teen unfolding in believable fashion, albeit with the necessarily chaste feel of a YA romance.

It’s once the movie leans more on its concept and less on its characters that the film rather comes off the rails. The third act is set largely in the aforementioned refuge, which may or may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Here, a tedious, and genre-ubiquitous, love triangle pops up and gets in the way of the pleasingly palpable chemistry between the core characters. Of course, it all builds to an action-packed finale that director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, taking a break from animated pandas, fails to imbue with much of a sense of scope.

It all feels a little cut short and that’s perhaps inevitable given the fact that this is only the first story in a series of books. Fans might be asking too much, though, in hoping that this one will continue. Despite its potentially interesting set of ideas and a handful of very good performances, it never raises the pulse enough to join its YA forefathers in the pantheon of the genre’s best movies.

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

The Darkest Minds might have done solid business a few years ago, but it’s completely all at sea in 2018. Amandla Stenberg continues to impress despite meagre material and excels at the centre of an intriguing collection of nicely-drawn teen characters. Unfortunately, the third act loses all of the first half’s energy and storytelling, collapsing under the weight of the need to set up a sequel that almost certainly won’t ever arrive.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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