[Screen It]


(2018) (Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Drama: Kids that have survived a worldwide pandemic and developed supernatural powers must contend with those who want to control or kill them.
A pandemic has spread across the world and killed most children. Those that survived have somehow developed supernatural powers ranging from simply being super smart to controlling electricity, fire, and even minds. Ruby (AMANDLA STENBERG) is one of the latter, labeled an "orange" by the feds who've put all such children in concentration camps under the order of President Gray (BRADLEY WHITFORD) who claims his own son, Clancy (PATRICK GIBSON), has been cured of this affliction.

Having been in such a camp since the age of 10 and having to contend with the torment of Captain McManus (WADE WILLIAMS), Ruby has used her powers to make others believe she's a safe "green," but a doctor there, Cate (MANDY MOORE), warns the teens that those who run the camp know of her true abilities and are going to kill her. In reality, Cate works for the Children's League, an organization that frees and supposedly helps such kids.

But Ruby gets suspicious of a man working with Cate and then flees with a trio of similar kids who are likewise on the run and looking for a different children's refuge. They're comprised of Liam (HARRIS DICKINSON) who has telekinetic powers, Zu (MIYA CECH) who can control electricity and Chubs (SKYLAN BROOKS) who's super smart. As they set out for that sanctuary, the four kids must contend with various forces who want to control or kill them

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Maybe you felt the same way whenever and wherever you grew up, but long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away (okay, really just four to five decades back right here in the good old Milky Way) I imagined how much fun it would be to have telekinetic powers. You know, where you can move things with your mind and thus act heroically when not putting bullies in their place.

I have no idea where I first came across fictional characters with such powers, but I imagine it was from the "X-Men" comic books. Not being an expert on such matters, I can't say if they were the first in that regard (in comics, TV shows or movies), but they certainly made an impression on me.

And apparently on others as since the 1960s there have been plenty of other works featuring similar characters with similar powers. I even penned a screenplay about kids developing telekinesis that my college professor was certain was going to sell in Hollywood. Alas, his former student who was big in Tinseltown at that time thought otherwise and it didn't happen. But it did for others then and continues through today with the latest entry being "The Darkest Minds."

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Alexandra Bracken (who coincidentally graduated from my alma mater), the film revolves around a bunch of kids who've somehow survived a worldwide pandemic that's killed more than ninety percent of children and somehow left the survivors with varying degrees of supernatural powers.

Having never read Bracken's work, I can't say if the details are explained in a satisfying fashion in that, but the way in which screenwriter Chad Hodge and director Jennifer Yuh Nelson present things here is decidedly less so. Sometimes that "less is more" tactic can work (as in this year's earlier "A Quiet Place"), but I would have preferred a few more answers with the premise here.

Instead, we hear from our 16-year-old protagonist, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), who briefly explains that kids were wiped out by something called Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. The rest were left with enhanced abilities ranging from simply being super-smart to being electrically supercharged, moving things with one's mind and being able to change others' minds.

The latter, along with those who are souped-up versions of Drew Barrymore's "Firestarter" have been deemed the most dangerous by the government (run by Bradley Whitford as the President whose son -- played by Patrick Gibson - has supposedly been one of the cured victims) and accordingly color-coded much like the terrorist threat level that was once on the news nearly every day here in the States.

The "reds" and "oranges" (with Ruby being among the latter) are targeted for termination while the rest are kept in rehabilitation (concentration) camps. Luckily for Ruby, a freedom fighter (Mandy Moore) posing as a doctor frees her, but when the teen realizes a man with that woman is bad (via simple touch), she goes on the run with a trio of kids (Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, and Miya Cech) who are looking for a kid sanctuary run by a mysterious child known only as the Slip Kid.

I suppose there's some potential here, but so much is derivative of other similar works that nothing feels original or engaging. Beyond the obvious "X-Men" similarities, our protagonist not only has Obi Wan's Jedi mind trick abilities, but also Christopher Walken's "see the true person through touch" from "The Dead Zone." The rest are rote as well.

A teen love angle subplot (between Stenberg and Dickinson's characters) might get young girls swooning and their hearts going all aflutter, but essentially does nothing as it's not any more effective (for everyone else) than any of the other material over the film's 105 or so minute runtime.

While it appears with the conclusion that all involved were hoping for yet another young adult sci-fi movie series along the lines of "Divergent" or "The Hunger Games," I can't imagine this one's going to be popular enough to spawn something like that.

Feeling too much like plenty of material we've seen before rather than its own special world, the only power I wanted to have while watching "The Darkest Minds" was the ability to go back in time and make it better. And if not that, simply to shut it off. The movie rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 2, 2018 / Posted August 3, 2018

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