Film review: The Darkest Minds

Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Amandla Stenberg and Harris Dickinson in The Darkest Minds
Damon Smith

ADAPTED from the first instalment of a trilogy of young-adult novels penned by Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds conjures dystopian nightmares that will be achingly familiar to fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent series.

The live action debut of Kung Fu Panda director Jennifer Yuh Nelson is set in a bleak, futuristic America where the adult population has turned against child survivors of a deadly epidemic.

One brave girl emerges from the melee to follow her destiny as figurehead of a rebellion, inspiring others to rise up against brutal regimes, which exterminate what they do not understand.

Nelson's film is blessed with a moving central performance from Amandla Stenberg, who captures the vulnerability of an adolescent heroine, who experiences growing pangs under duress including the first stirrings of hormone-addled desire for a boy.

The closing image of the girl, raising her hand in defiance, is strikingly similar to Jennifer Lawrence's courageous Katniss Everdeen, and Chad Hodge's script for The Darkest Minds neatly plots three points of a love triangle to mirror the tug of war between Katniss, Peeta and Gale.

Nelson confidently executes all of the elements including some slickly choreographed action sequences, but every glossy frame is doused liberally with eau de deja vu.

A pathogen with the unwieldy name Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration (IAAN) delivers a fatal blow to 98 per cent of the children's population. Survivors are blessed with potentially deadly powers.

US President Gray (Bradley Whitford), whose son Clancy (Patrick Gibson) is among the afflicted, orders children to be forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to rehabilitation camps where they are colour-coded based on their newfound abilities.

Green, Blue and Yellow are permitted to live under armed guard, while Orange and Red are eliminated via lethal injection.

Sixteen-year-old Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) is an Orange but has lived under the radar as Green in Thurmond rehabilitation camp, where Dr Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) takes a keen interest in the youngster.

The medic risks her life to smuggle Ruby out of the facility to join the fight against the government as part of the Children's League.

A shocking vision wrenches Ruby away from Cate and the teenager aligns herself with three young fugitives – a Blue called Liam (Harris Dickinson), a Green called Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and a Yellow called Zu (Miya Cech) – who are searching for the fabled safe haven of East River.

The Darkest Minds is anchored by the luminous Stenberg, who catalyses simmering on-screen chemistry with Dickinson's strapping hunk.

Gwendoline Christie is squandered as a tenacious bounty hunter called Lady Jane, whose campaign of terror ends with disappointing ease in this opening chapter.

Hodge's screenplay sparks a potential sequel but it's hard to imagine that flame burning bright without the kindling wood of originality.

THE DARKEST MINDS (12A, 104 mins) Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Adventure/Action/Romance. Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Mandy Moore, Patrick Gibson, Bradley Whitford, Gwendoline Christie. Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

RATING: 6/10

Released: August 6 (UK & Ireland)

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