The letters “YA” are enough to strike terror in the hearts of any sentient movie goer, especially fans of science fiction.
Because for every “Hunger Games” or “Maze Runner” that hits and spawns too many repetitive, inane sequels to count, there’s a “Divergent,” so silly even “Young Adults” of 15 or 16 lose interest in a flash.
“The Seeker,” “The Giver,” “The Host,” Mortal Instruments” — Netflix is littered with “franchises” that never sold enough tickets to return from the dead.
“The Darkest Minds” seems fated to fall into that last dustbin. It’s a tediously derivative tale based on an Alexandra Bracken novel about a plague that wipes out most of the world’s children, and leaves the rest as candidates for Professor Xavier’s “special” school.
Except the government hunts them down and packs them into camps, and the kids who flee the camps become rebels against, you know, a corrupt system.
Of course there’s a “chosen one,” naturally she’s preternaturally pretty and of course there’s a young hunk or three vying for her attention, affection and maybe the use of her powers.
Here, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg of “Everything, Everything,” about to blow up in “The Hate U Give”) is the child reared in labor camps, agirl classified as very smart, but non-threatening, a “green” as the scientists have designated them.
There are more dangerous golds, and oranges and reds with psychotronic powers, able to read minds, hurl objects with their brains and fling fire and what have you from their fingertips.
Ruby is “rescued” by “The League,” an organization that snatches these little brain-bombers from Federal custody. Mandy Moore is Cate, who seems like a heroine…
UNTIL Ruby falls in instead with Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubbs (Skylan Brooks) and the mute and deadly Zu (Miya Cech), the scariest tween ever.
“Tracers” hunt them, and the government forces under the command of a “concerned” president (Bradley Whitford). If only they can make it to sanctuary, figure out where the cool kids are hiding. Maybe track them down on AM radio.
“If you can hear this, you are one of us...”
Animator (“Kung Fu Panda”) turned director Jennifer Yuh Nelson treats us to some “Maze Runner” level dystopia — a half-ruined entropic country (the story is set in Virginia), abandoned malls (No kids, no need for malls, right?), legions of locked-up kids paraded, by color, into detention camps.
Sound familiar? You’re not watching the news.
The rebel kids live on the fly, on their own and in the woods and form their own hierarchy. Sound familiar? You’re not seeing enough YA sci-fi.
Nelson keeps the kids, especially Stenberg, in tight bedroom-poster-size close-ups. But the performances are nothing to make you think, “We’ve got the next Jennifer Lawrence/Shailene Woodley here.”
These movies live or die on their action beats, and only a couple register — a random car chase with supernatural assistance, and a big battle involving soldiers and Osprey troop transports and kids with eyes that glow orange or red when they get into a dust-up.
It’s inconsequential enough that even the filmmakers hedged their bets on setting up a sequel. New generations of kids come along fast enough that “derivative” doesn’t bother YA viewers as much as the rest of us.
But even they might roll their eyes at the best “The Darkest Minds” can come up with. Which is nothing we haven’t seen before, repeatedly, over the past five years.
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Bradley Whitford
Credits:Directed byJennifer Yuh Nelson, script by Chad Hodge, based on the Alexandra Bracken novel. A Fox release.
Running time: 1:45