Monday, August 06, 2018

The Darkest Minds … bringing idiopathic screen-based adolescent acute neurodegeneration to a cinema near you from 10 August

The premise of The Darkest Minds is that a majority of children across North America – the filmmakers’ boundaries stretch no further than the US – have been killed by an outbreak of Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN). While the near-annihilation of children causes the economy to tank, the remaining children are viewed with suspicion and the new superpowers that helped them fend off the disease cause them to be interned in camps by military wearing yellow suits.

Ruby has mind-altering abilities. Played briefly as a small child by Lidya Jewett, it’s Amandla Stenberg (Rue from Hunger Games) who takes over the role six years later and plays it with empathy and resilience while remaining as always-on-edge as might be expected from someone with special enough powers to carry a target on her back. As an actor, she deserves a better vehicle to show off her talent.

Breaking free and heading across state boundaries towards safety, audiences learn that her travelling companions have lesser powers: Liam (Harris Dickinson) can move objects – think Quake from Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD but with less sass and less gorm; Zu who brings a spark to any party appliance is cute but her character is only ever used as an emergency exit; and Charles/Chubs (Skylan Brooks) who has been written as one dimensional super smart nerd who can’t see far without his glasses.

The Darkest Minds wants to be the next Hunger Games. It could be a female-led apocalyptic survival franchise with young people rage against other young people as well as fearful adults. But instead it edits together moments of Mad Max, Watership Down, Animal Farm, Vulcan mind-melding and throws in the Scooby Doo van and the Child-Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for good measure to make a ‘young adult’ science fiction adventure that surely underestimates and under-stimulates the minds of the teenagers it so wants to entertain.

Good and evil are mixed up. No one can be trusted. Important lines are repeated. No one can be trusted. The narration is over-the-top, and lines like “we’re going to need another doctor” that may once have looked funny on paper fall flat when projected onto the big silver screen.

Logic goes out the window when the gang – who have been chased while driving along the road – choose to abandon their trusty vehicle and walk. I didn’t catch any explanation about why the US has remained childless, and why the older teens remain unencumbered by romance and pregnancy in their new post-IAAN free world. So many questions that a TV mini-series – and presumably Alexandra Bracken’s original novels (five in this series at the time of writing) – would have time to explore. But not in this 104-minute cinematic catastrophe.

The clichés come thick and fast: power(s) come with responsibilities; diversity is good; never be ashamed of who you are. Could it be that director Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s switch from animation to live-action has brought the sensibilities and pace of one genre into another without sufficient adaptation? Or am I missing something new and vibrant by being a stick-in-the-mud?

The film’s concluding scenes – which could have been sponsored by The United Colours of Benetton – are the some of the weakest parts of an already diluted and tame story. They cry out* for a sequel; a sequel that is not deserved. (*The only tears will be on-screen, you’ll not need a tissue for this film!)

The makers of scandi-noir The Snowman admit that they ran out of money and edited the film together without all the scenes being shot. The makers of The Darkest Minds don’t seem to have that excuse. But they took a flimsy script and padded it out to make a film that will kill brain cells of those who watch it in a tribute to their fictional IAAN!

I thought that January’s release of Maze Runner: The Death Cure was a plague on teen thriller adaptations. Boy oh boy was I wrong … Or maybe I’m clueless! Maybe The Darkest Minds will be a wild success at the box office this summer, entertaining courting teens and others who want something light and fluffy with a bit of action to entertain but no gore or horror to upset.

The Darkest Minds goes on general release in UK and Irish cinemas including the Movie House chain from Friday 10 August. Let me know what you think of it …

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