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Movie review: Routine 'Darkest Minds' feels like playing young adult bingo
Zu (Miya Cech), Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), Liam (Harris Dickinson) and Chubs (Skylan Brooks) enter an abandoned mall in The Darkest Minds." - photo by Josh Terry
THE DARKEST MINDS 2 stars Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore, Skylan Brooks, Harris Dickinson, Miya Cech; PG-13 (mild sexual content, profanity and violence); in general release; running time: 105 minutes

The Darkest Minds is a harmless piece of cinematic deja vu.

Based on Alexandra Bracken's young adult novel, The Darkest Minds follows the heroic adventures of a gifted teenage girl as she faces down a treacherous postapocalyptic world.

Sound familiar yet?

The film is set in the not-too-distant future, after a mysterious disease wipes out 90 percent of the worlds children. The survivors display strange powers and are taken from their families and grouped into categories based on the particular power they have.

Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is an orange, which means she can control minds. Shes especially rare, and when her camp targets her for extermination, a military doctor named Cate (Mandy Moore) rescues her and tries to take her to a resistance movement called the Childrens League.

Instead, Ruby teams up with a group of fugitive kids who, funny enough, each represent a different color on the superpower spectrum. Zu (Miya Cech) is a yellow, which means she can control electricity. Chubs (Skylan Brooks) is a green, which means hes super smart (greens are considered harmless, even by the evil military guys).

Then theres Liam (Harris Dickinson). Liam is a blue, which means he can levitate objects and unscrew lug nuts with his mind when the van gets a flat tire. Hes also tall, dark and handsome, which means he will shortly become Rubys love interest.

Liam and his crew distrust the Childrens League, and obviously they cant go back to the government camps, which are ruled by a cartoon bad guy named Captain McManus (Wade Williams). Their only hope is a rumored third party, led by a mysterious teen named the Slip Kid (because he frequently slips out of the hands of the bad guys).

So, lets recap. Weve got a postapocalyptic future (B!). Weve got a population grouped into arbitrary categories (I!). Weve got a dashing and deferential male love interest (N!). Weve got a strong but vulnerable teenage female lead who is uniquely gifted (G!). And weve got an ending tailormade to anticipate a sequel.


The Darkest Minds has its moments, but for the most part, its like watching a dubbed VHS copy of a dubbed VHS copy. Its the latest aspiring young adult franchise to follow in the footsteps of The Hunger Games and Divergent, though it would be a surprise if Darkest Minds makes it anywhere near that far. In fact, at one point, Darkest Minds even references the granddaddy of young adult franchises: "Harry Potter."

To bolster the youthful cast, Darkest Minds also features Bradley Whitford as a bearded U.S. president in trendy glasses, and Gwendoline Christie has a small supporting role as a bounty hunter named Lady Jane who rides around in a gold Dodge Charger. But like most all young adult films, the narrative weight is on young shoulders, and in this case, its too much of a burden.

Theres something to be said about a tried-and-true formula, and some audiences may dismiss Darkest Minds similarities as nothing more than the genre tropes that make it so appealing to its target audience. For some, that might be enough. But director Jennifer Yuh Nelsons film has a tendency to rush its narrative, bounding forward in such a way that at times you feel what should have been a three-hour film has been scaled back to 105 minutes. And as a result, all the emotional gravitas and hints at social commentary just feel half-baked.

Maybe fans of the book will feel rewarded to see its story on the big screen. For the rest of us, The Darkest Minds will just feel like a fleeting memory of a story we've heard many times before.

Content advisory: The Darkest Minds is rated PG-13 and contains just enough profanity and violence to make parents at least a little cautious about sending their younger kids. It also includes one sexually aggressive scene in which a man tries to force himself on the heroine, but the scene is not explicit.