A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Darkest Minds is an action thriller based on the first book in author Alexandra Bracken's best-selling young adult series about a world in which most children and teens have died from a fatal virus. Rare survivors have emerged with mysterious superpowers, including enhanced intelligence, telekinesis, mind control, and fire-starting. Starring Amandla Stenberg, the movie is fairly violent, with a high body count that includes many children and teens, as well as some adults (who in some cases are compelled via mind control to injure/kill themselves). There's also a scene in which a girl erases herself from her parents' memories and another in which a 20-something man tries to sexually assault a 16-year-old girl. There's some romance, but because of a power that works skin-to-skin, the romance mostly consists of longing looks, one slow dance, and an eventual big kiss. Fans of the book will want to check out the movie, even if there are some major differences, as always, between the text and the screen versions.
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What's the story?
THE DARKEST MINDS is based on the first book in Alexandra Bracken's best-selling dystopian series. The movie starts with a young Ruby Daly (Lidya Jewett) realizing that kids and teens are dying from a child-afflicting supervirus. She survives, but something is different. On the night of her 10th birthday, she touches her parents while they sleep, and by morning, her mom doesn't recognize her and calls the authorities, who take her away. Six years later, Ruby (now played by Amandla Stenberg) is in a prison camp for young survivors, all of whom have superpowers categorized by color: Greens are the least threatening and have enhanced intelligence, blues are telekinetic, and golds can control electricity. And then there are the two dangerous colors: oranges, who can control and enter peoples' minds, and reds, who are pyrokinetic and breathe fire. Ruby is an orange who uses her power to pose as a green. After a prison doctor/resistance fighter (Mandy Moore) helps Ruby escape, she teams up with a van full of two teens and one child -- "blue" Liam (Harris Dickinson), "green" Charles aka Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and "gold" Zu (Miya Cech). Together, the quartet avoids trackers and bounty hunters and searches for East River, a supposed secret haven for kids that's run by the elusive "Slip Kid."
Is it any good?
Despite starring a YA-film veteran (Stenberg) and coming from page-turning source material, this adaptation suffers from a lackluster script and derivative dystopian themes. On paper, the 2012 story was impossible to put down, but on screen, the movie is predictable and unevenly paced. Worse, Chad Hodge's script is clunky and results in unintentional laughter. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson did a wonderful job with the two Kung Fu Panda movies she helmed, but here there's so much left to be desired; from the dialogue to the editing to the various plot holes that aren't remotely answered, there's not much to support this film being worth the price of admission (much less warranting the sequels to complete Ruby's story).
Stenberg is a talented actress, and she's more than up to carrying a movie. Unfortunately, Ruby's character in this fim is reduced to "chosen one" stereotypes, and the romance, which is so heartfelt in the book, is cute but also a little too inevitable. Dickinson's Liam is handsome and earnest enough, but the movie's love story doesn't offer viewers the high-stakes build-up of Tris and Four in Divergent or Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games. There's a minor (and short-lived) love triangle, but most viewers will see right through the other character's intentions. Hollywood should perhaps leave the big-concept YA sci-fi/dystopian/fantasy series to television and concentrate on realistic contemporary and period movies that are harder to get wrong. Bracken's books are quite entertaining, but this adaptation is far from compelling.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Darkest Minds and the popularity of post-apocalyptic/post-crisis stories. What's appealing about them? What are some other books and movies that feature a similarly bleak future?
How does Ruby compare to other female protagonists in young adult books and movies? What are her views on love, marriage, and kids, and how are they tied to the unimaginably dire circumstances she endures?
Fans of the book: How does the movie compare to the book? What are the main differences? Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it?
- In theaters: August 3, 2018
- Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore
- Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.