This supernatural YA adventure gets by on Amandla Stenberg‘s charm and some surprising topicality.
It’s a funny thing, timing. In 2012, when young adult novel ‘The Darkest Minds’ was written, its dystopian narrative about a fascist American government that locked up kids didn’t have much in the way of political bite. But as this movie version makes its bid for the summer holiday dollar, it’s a different story. And the topical relevance of seeing children interned in cages by government officials feels weird in what’s essentially a peppy, plot-heavy outbreak of supernatural teen shenanigans.
‘The Hunger Games’ star Amandla Stenberg makes an endearing lead as Ruby, a girl who develops supernatural powers in the aftermath of a plague that wipes out 90 percent of America’s kids. She’s locked up in a government camp with all the other surviving children, until a mysterious organisation helps her escape into the dangerous wasteland outside, and into a rather convoluted quest to find home. Immediately we’re in familiar territory of kids with magic abilities pursued by gun-toting officialdom (unsurprisingly, this movie’s producers were also behind ‘Stranger Things’).
The plot’s a mess, and there’s little attempt to explore the emotional impact of the film’s initial death-fest. But luckily director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has a laser-sharp focus on what teens actually want to see. There are exhilarating scenes of the crew raiding a derelict shopping mall, outwitting adults with mind control, and living it up in a kid-only woodland city. Adults might wonder how a dystopia with so much potential to be timely can feel this silly, but I doubt teens will care.
Cast and crew