It’s hard to believe it’s been only six years since the first Hunger Games was released to theaters, setting off a chain reaction of studios scrambling to find their own teen fantasy golden geese. Certainly, there was George Lucas and J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis before Suzanne Collins begat her own teen hero’s journey, but it definitely felt as if there was at least the faintest whiff of something fresh coming from that series at the time. Its target demographic thought so, anyway. So now here we are half a decade later, and what have we learned?
For one thing, “you can start the revolution without me” is no longer an option. The most glaring difference between this genre in general — The Darkest Minds in particular — and the films and stories that have paved the way is that any moral ambiguity or richer texture to these worlds has been all but scrubbed clean. I wasn’t expecting to have my mind blown by Darkest Minds, but a little goes a long way with these things. Maybe it’s enough that we got a few seconds of President Bradley Whitford and Dr. Wallace Langham looking hilariously as if they wanted to be anywhere but on the set of this movie. Does that count as political intrigue?
This is a film that so badly wants to be a Zucker- or Wayans-style parody exercise that it often transparently comments on its own influences in some — I guess? — attempt at meta-humor. In fact, I would probably not be surprised to find out that the filmmakers accidentally played themselves by adapting this material in much the same way Fox News sometimes breathlessly comments on Onion articles. Or that this is a reverse Red Alert/Dr. Strangelove scenario here. Just the same, I’m actually a fan of Teen Mutant Cinema, so I’ll take what I can get. I do appreciate a reason to care, though.
So we have a group of color-coded superpowers, a burgeoning revolutionary-type figure, some help from adults crossing enemy lines, a bland go-nowhere romance and several uses of a very specific visual effect that was so effective in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War. We even get what I can only believe is some accidentally topical imagery of children being ripped from their families and thrown in detention camps. And, as mentioned earlier, we see the latest installment of Bradley Whitford’s new side quest of appearing in as many weird sci-fi offerings as possible. I wish I could report that it all added up to anything interesting, but, honestly, that doesn’t even matter, because get a load of this.
The family sitting next to me at my screening — mom and dad and two teenagers — seemed to hate this nonsense just as much as I did. It’s always nice when you can leave a movie and feel as if you’re not so alone in the world after all, that you have a sense of togetherness and kinship with those around you. It’s too bad the makers of The Darkest Minds didn’t consider this as well. Or, again, and maybe more pointedly, they stumbled onto it by accident.