The Darkest Minds review: Makes a nightmarish, futuristic world seem like summer camp

The filmmakers have scavenged most of the ideas from other such tales of young adults facing death and destruction as ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Divergent and ‘The Maze Runner’

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 09 August 2018 09:58
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The Darkest Minds Clip - Blue Betty Chase

Dir Jennifer Yuh Nelson, 104 mins, starring: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Miya Cech, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Skylan Brooks

As far as dystopian young adult dramas go, The Darkest Minds is remarkably cheerful. “A month later, half my class was dead,” a voiceover cheerily informs us about the mysterious disease ravaging America’s youth. “Soon, there wouldn’t be any kids anywhere.”

The filmmakers have scavenged most of the ideas from other such tales of young adults facing death and destruction as The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. The Darkest Minds is based on a novel by Alexandra Bracken but it feels like a mash-up of elements from any of these earlier films which did decent business at the box office.

As the story starts in earnest, 98 per cent of the country’s children are dead. The remaining 2 per cent have developed superhuman powers – they can use telekinesis or harness electricity or take over adults’ minds. The government has put them into work camps. Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) is classified “Orange”, which makes her the most lethal of the kids. When she locks arms with someone and looks into their eyes, she can bend them entirely to her will.

One of the mysteries here is why Ruby doesn’t make better use of her powers and why she has allowed herself to be locked away in a huge workhouse. We first encounter her as a kid who has somehow caused her parents’ memories of her to vanish. Whizz forward a few years and she is a precocious and sensitive teenager.

Ruby is rescued from near certain death in the camps by Doctor Cate Connor (Mandy Moore). It’s at this point, the film becomes deeply confusing. Cate is member of a sinister secret organisation called the League which may well be just as dangerous to the youngsters as the government it is trying to topple.

The film has no sooner started than we hear ominous discussions about “initial sub-atomic frequency tests”. For all its complicated sci-fi elements, The Darkest Minds soon turns into another Huck Finn-style adventure story about kids on the run. Ruby takes up with a small gang of likeable young renegades led by Liam (Harris Dickinson), a tall, chivalric type, and the very brainy “Chubs” (Skylan Brooks).

The fourth member of the gang is Zu, a youngster who, for reasons never satisfactorily explained, is seldom seen without her yellow washing-up gloves.

The statuesque Gwendoline Christie (from Game Of Thrones) pops up once or twice as a bounty hunter who seems to have stumbled out of a Mad Max film. Patrick Gibson radiates smugness as Clancy, the president’s son who has made a miraculous recovery from the illness that has destroyed the rest of the kids in America. He’s an unctuous and creepy type whose pose as a Robin Hood-like leader of the resistance fools no one.

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Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who previously directed the two Kung Fu Panda animated movie sequels, keeps the pacing brisk in the hope no one will notice holes in the plot. One of the best scenes is set inside a deserted shopping mall in which Ruby and the rest of the gang briefly hide out. They’re attacked by fellow teenagers but their psychic, Uri Geller-like powers far exceed those of their aggressors.

In spite of the title, the film doesn’t want to take us to too many dark places. In fact, it manages the unlikely feat of making a nightmarish, futuristic world seem a bit like a summer camp.

Darkest Minds hits UK cinemas 10 August.

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