The Austin Chronicle

The Darkest Minds

Rated PG-13, 105 min. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Starring Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Harris Dickinson, Patrick Gibson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Mark O'Brien, Gwendoline Christie.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 10, 2018

Everyone knows that the downfall of humanity is considerably less interesting than its recovery. How filmmakers depict the rebirth of community – and the cultures and customs that survive along the way  –  go a long way toward separating the good postapocalyptic films from the bad ones. This is, ultimately, the problem with The Darkest Minds. How can we connect to the movie when we aren’t made to care about the world they’re fighting to save?

It’s been six years since a mysterious illness wiped out most of the children on the planet, and humanity has been confronted by another challenge: the survivors. All across the world, adolescents have begun to demonstrate supernatural powers; in response, the government rounds up children and throws them into internment camps sorted by the threat their new abilities pose. Increased intelligence and telekinesis are treated as relatively harmless, but soldiers are given strict orders to shoot telepaths on sight. That is, until both the government and the resistance set their eyes on a young psychic called Ruby (Stenberg) who has yet to realize the full potential of her powers.

If there’s an upside to The Darkest Minds, it’s that the film probably won’t slow down the meteoric rise of Amandla Stenberg. Having made a name for herself in other young adult films such as The Hunger Games and Everything, Everything, she  gives the character of Ruby a degree of sympathy that the movie does not otherwise earn. Every time we are introduced to another cartoonish villain or predictable story point, Stenberg is there to squeeze every drop of meaning from the scene. If The Darkest Minds earns the sequel it is so obviously clamoring for in its final act, the prospect of more work for this teenage cast is one of its saving graces.

But oh, that story. In another universe, the juxtaposition of family and tragedy might’ve produced something unique; instead, it feels like a pastiche of borrowed story beats from better movies. There are no pleasant surprises to be found here, no dynamic action sequences or stylistic character work meant to offset the simplicity of the storyline. In the same year that 20th Century Fox proved that young adult films still had some juice left with Maze Runner: The Death Cure, they’ve done their best to kill the subgenre with The Darkest Minds. Teenagers deserve a better caliber of dystopia.

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