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Movie Review

When 10-year-old Ruby's friend suddenly doubled over with convulsions one day at school, with an almost electric glow emanating from her eyes before the light of life left them forever, she had no idea what was going on. None of the kids in the lunchroom did.

But they were all about to learn that something terrible was in the wind.

Within a very short time, some 90% of the world's teens and children were dead from the mysterious, rapidly spreading pandemic. Adults weren't affected, just kids. And the children who survived came out the other side with some incredible new abilities.

Of course, that massive reduction of the youthful population changed everything. The economy floundered. Panic ensued. Before you knew it, the world's governments were rounding up any and all young survivors and hustling them roughly off to special camps.

The public explanation? It's all about finding a "cure." But in truth, it's because the people in power are very afraid: These kids are superhuman.

The children are segregated by a color-coded system, with each hue representing particular abilities—and their associated risk level. Greens are kids who gained a preternaturally heightened intellect. They can be very useful in the government's eye. The Blues and Golds, however, are trickier: Blues can telekinetically move things, while Golds can manipulate electrical current. Both are still useful, but potentially dangerous as well.

Oranges and Reds, though, are the worst of the bunch. The Orange kids can mentally invade someone else's mind with a touch. They can tell you to shoot yourself in the face, and you'd be compelled to do it. And the Reds? Well, they can open their mouths and spout huge gusts of pure, billowing fire. They're napalm flamethrowers with a teen brain, adolescent dragons if you will. Tell me that ain't a problem.

So the Oranges and Reds must be terminated posthaste, the government decides, the moment they're discovered.

Ruby, who by now is 16, is an Orange. She's an Orange who was bright enough and quick enough to touch her doctor and convince him to categorize her as a Green right before he drove the lethal injection into Ruby's arm.

She's safe for now. But a power of her magnitude is no easy thing for a young girl to control. Things happen. The camp guards can be harsh and abusive. Tempers rise. And in a heartbeat, someone can get … hurt.

As you might imagine, a closeted Orange life is bound to be a hard one in this deadly new world. And Ruby is one of the most powerful Oranges ever known.

Positive Elements

After spending years in the kids' internment camp, Ruby gets help escaping from a caring a doctor named Kate. This doc risks her life to keep 16-year-old Ruby from being executed by the authorities. Ruby later meets a trio of other kids who are also on the run: Liam, a Blue; Chubs, a Green; and Zu, a young Gold girl. They invite Ruby to join them, and Liam eventually speaks of their bond as being "kinda like a family."

We see Liam struggle to protect and free scores of teens from a prison camp. He does the same thing in a totally different setting later, even though he's injured at that point. Liam also chooses to stay and aid his friends, even though it means he'll likely be captured by a group of people he hates. Ruby makes several similarly selfless choices as well.

The kids find a large community of teen survivors who declare that they "respect each other's differences" and live together in peace. (Though there are some shadowy things afoot even in this supposedly more idyllic community.)

Spiritual Content

None.

Sexual Content

Ruby's shown wrapped only in a towel after a shower. And most of her outfits are either low-cut or formfitting. She and Liam fall in love and hug each other while slow dancing. They also kiss.

[Spoiler Warning] A teen named Clancy taps into Ruby's memories. When Ruby pulls herself out of the dream-like trance he's induced, she awakens to find Clancy lying on top of her and attempting to fondle and kiss her. (She slaps him and pushes away.)

Violent Content

Like most similar pseudo-apocalyptic teen actioners, there is plenty of thumping and trigger-pulling violence afoot here. That said, the film's vicious and deadly moments are mostly sanitized and bloodless onscreen—though the brutality that's still suggested at times remains quite visceral.

For example, we see an attempted mass escape in which armed guards mow down scores of teens from behind. A small group of Reds spews flames at unarmed teens around them. A large military helicopter crashes and erupts into a huge explosion that burns teens and blows several off their feet. A friend of Ruby's gets badly burned while saving her from a second explosion; we later see the burn wounds on his back and neck.

Perhaps even more disturbingly, teens with mind-control powers instruct several people to put guns beneath their own chins and kill themselves (though the mortal wounds inflicted are kept just offscreen). Teens also use those abilities to prompt a group of guards to turn and shoot one another.

Likewise, someone shoots himself at Ruby's command. And she instructs another woman to walk into a forest and not to stop—ever. It's implied that she'll walk 'til she dies. Teens' powers also rip up a road and uproot large trees. Liam and Ruby get snatched up into the air and thumped about by telekinetic kids.

Various attacks leave some characters, including Ruby and Liam, cut and bloodied. One boy is badly bruised after surviving a large explosion. Some troubling scenes feature large men grabbing and manhandling teen girls. In one such scene, it seems as if a gruff guard's interactions are on the verge of turning forcefully sexual before his attention is drawn away.

Kids are hit with a subsonic weapon that drives them to their knees in pain and knocks some of them out cold. Two vehicles smash together repeatedly during a car chase. We see a car plunge over a steep embankment.

Crude or Profane Language

Most of the foul language here—about half a dozen s-words and multiple uses of "a--hole," "d--n" and "h---"—is tossed out by a single character named Chubs. We also hear a few uses of "oh my god."

Drug and Alcohol Content

A doctor tries to shove a needle full of poison into Ruby's arm. We see a screaming teen being held down by doctors and injected with experimental drugs.

Other Negative Elements

Even though the American president publically says the right thing concerning the government's efforts to save children, he and other government officials simply want to experiment on the surviving adolescents—including the President's own son. In fact, many adults and kids here are duplicitous, saying one thing publically but then taking self-serving actions. One particularly powerful teen dreams of manipulating and ruling over the world with his power.

Conclusion

The Darkest Minds is like many other adaptations of Young Adult fiction we've seen over the last dozen years or so. It attempts to weave its apocalyptic source material into a pic that's equal parts action-adventure and social commentary.

But this teen-focused flick—which feels like it was actually written by a teen—doesn't have much to say. And the ostensible adventure here is rather derivative and predictable. Yep, it's about kids who develop mutant superpowers and then are persecuted by a militaristic government. And it stars some young attractive actors. But that's about all you get.

To be honest, The Darkest Minds doesn't even feel like a full movie. It's more of a 100-minute prologue to a presumed sequel. The result? A one-dimensional setup with one-dimensional relationships, one-dimensional heroes and a lot of dead kids.

In fact, the "heroes" aren't even all that heroic in some instances. Instead of wrestling with the potential horrors of her incredibly powerful mind-control abilities, Ruby sometimes lets them fly without a moment's hesitation or any apparent consideration of the morality of her choices. If she's mad enough, who cares if she prompts a guy to blow his own head off or mentally manipulates a woman to walk herself to death? (We don't see the actual bloody aftermath here, but the brutal vengeance of Ruby's choices is still evident.)

Add in scenes of innocent teens being suggestively manhandled, blown up or mowed down by soldiers with high-caliber weapons, throw in poorly written interactions where crudities get tossed around for laughs, and you've got a film that feels dissatisfying and disquieting.

Not a great way to start a new movie franchise.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Amandla Stenberg as Ruby; Harris Dickinson as Liam; Skylan Brooks as Chubs; Miya Cech as Zu; Mandy Moore as Cate; Bradley Whitford as President Gray

Director

Jennifer Yuh Nelson ( )

Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

August 3, 2018

On Video

October 30, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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