Imprisoned by an adult world that now fears everyone younger than 18, a group of teens forms a resistance group to fight back and reclaim control of their future in “The Darkest Minds.” Mandy Moore (left) and Amandla Stenberg star. (Daniel McFadden/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

Imprisoned by an adult world that now fears everyone younger than 18, a group of teens forms a resistance group to fight back and reclaim control of their future in “The Darkest Minds.” Mandy Moore (left) and Amandla Stenberg star. (Daniel McFadden/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

‘Darkest Minds’ has juicy political metaphors, despite thin concept

Amandla Stenberg, who broke out in “The Hunger Games,” returns to her dystopian teen roots starring

  • Friday, August 3, 2018 1:30am
  • Life

By Katie Walsh

Tribune News Service

From “The Hunger Games” to “Harry Potter,” dystopian young adult science fiction has become a favorite device for unpacking the complexities of the real world. The new film “The Darkest Minds,” based on the novel by Amanda Bracken, written by Chad Hodge, feels like a bit of a late entry, even as it positions itself for sequels. Although the film, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson making her live-action debut, is rather choppy and never ascends to the levels summited by Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, there are still plenty of juicy political metaphors to chew on.

Amandla Stenberg, who broke out in “The Hunger Games,” returns to her dystopian teen roots starring as Ruby, a young girl ripped away from her family as the country is gripped in a crisis after adolescents are wiped out by a lethal disease. Ruby has unexplainably powerful telepathic abilities. She and the other survivors, who all possess some supernatural powers, are transported to brutal labor camps and color-coded by their abilities. The super-smart are green, telekinetics blue, electricity manipulators yellow, mind-readers orange and the killers red.

Kids considered “different” and “dangerous” are separated from their families and held in dreary detention camps — the current political relevance is almost too on the nose (though no fault of the filmmakers). But there’s a refreshing bold streak of anarchy throughout. Our heroes are ostracized and oppressed young teens taking matters into their own hands, fighting their way out of captivity, finding fellowship in each other and working toward creating a utopian world of communal living. The moments of radical anti-government and anti-capitalist sentiment pop off the screen, indicating something far more interesting underneath.

But “The Darkest Minds” feels hacked to bits. Bradley Whitford appears as President Gray, who claims his son as been cured of the evil illness, but his appearance is strangely brief and you have to wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s a similar situation with Mandy Moore, who has about 10 minutes of screen time as a member of the League, a group trying to save the kids from the camps. Ruby doesn’t trust the League, and we spend much of the movie wondering just why the League is untrustworthy, or maybe trustworthy? One would also surmise much of the subplot was cut out, and the lack of story cohesion shows.

The film is lacking so much backstory. We’re simply just told most of what we need to know without being shown. Ruby’s ability to see the memories and dreams of others serves as a convenient storytelling device to display character backstory and motivation without actually weaving it into the script itself.

The cast of talented up-and-comers far exceeds the thin concept and often silly writing of “The Darkest Minds.” Skylan Brooks steals the show with much-needed comic relief as the nerdy Chubs. Sternberg is a lovely and naturalistic performer, and the film hinges around her love story with the telekinetic Liam, played by British newcomer Harris Dickinson, who stunned last year in Eliza Hittman’s “Beach Rats.” His sensuality adds heat to their chemistry, and the film is far more about their connection than it is about plot or story mechanics, which become hopelessly muddled.

“The Darkest Minds” never commits to one specific message. It shies away from actually saying anything interesting and stumbles in the execution, privileging a young love story over everything else. Despite its radical potential, it’s disappointing to see this story fall back on what’s considered typical teen stuff.

“The Darkest Minds” (2 stars)

When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore and Bradley Whitford star.

Rating: PG-13, for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Talk to us

More in Life

See 81 original paintings by Jack Dorsey in the "No. 81" exhibit through May at Sunnyshore Studio on Camano Island.
Camano Island studio celebrates a patriarch of the arts

“No. 81” features 81 of Jack Dorsey’s paintings on his 81st birthday. You can see 28 of them at Sunnyshore Studio.

The vocal supergroup Säje will perform at the DeMiero Jazz Festival, which is March 4-6 this year.
DeMiero Jazz Festival packed with headlining performers

Edmonds’ 45th annual event will feature 17 virtual performances, plus jazz workshops for local students.

Owners Kim and Larry Harris at Bayernmoor Cellars on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 in Stanwood, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
World-class wine, from grapes grown right here

Bayernmoor Cellars makes award-winning pinot noir from grapes grown at its vineyard northeast of Stanwood.

(Getty Images)
You voted: The best cocktails in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

About a dozen metal dinosaurs sit in the front yard of a home owned by Burt Mason and Mary Saltwick on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 in Freeland, Washington. The couple are used to finding strangers in their yard and taking photos. Every year on their trip to Tucson, Burt and Mary bring home another figure  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Dinos on Whidbey? This Freeland yard is a Jurassic Park

These creatures from long ago won’t chomp or chase you, and you’re welcome to visit.

Drink This: 5 Snohomish breweries to host Smash and Dash

Each brewery takes the same base IPA recipe and then dry hops the beer with a different hop. Try them all.

Golden shakshuka

Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Golden Shakshuka is just the thing for a weekend brunch

This easy Middle Eastern egg dish is made with yellow bell peppers and yellow cherry tomatoes.

Don Sarver, left, and Kyle James, right, snowshoe on the Skyline Lake Trail on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Leavenworth, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Avoiding avalanches: How to know and where to go

Follow these tips for researching on-the-ground conditions from comfort of your home or local library.

(Getty Images)
You voted: The best Chinese food in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

Most Read