IR Film Review: THE DARKEST MINDS [20th Century Fox]

The search of identity or the strength within it plays to the crux of most YA novels, especially those set in an almost apocalyptic world. “The Darkest Minds” in its marketing seemed to play to more of an “X-Men” vibe but it is quite the opposite. It is more a romance mixed with a coming-of-age drama. That is not to say it isn’t sure of itself. It owes more to elements of “Hunger Games” and “Maze Runner” than to “X-Men”. The storyline and, by extent, the acting, considering it is all young actors, comes from more of a place of maturity than one would expect. This obviously comes from the grounding of Alexandra Bracken’s novel. Having spoke to her for this interview earlier in the week, the idea of “The Darkest Minds”, she explained, came after 9/11 when she was in high school, that idea of what is the right path to take, what action is possible. Amandla Stenberg plays Ruby, the reluctant hero of “Minds” and, like Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, finds her power through sacrifice. Stenberg achieves in a way what “A Wrinkle In Time” could not. “The Darkest Minds” is about the power of youth but not, by pretending, they are the true leads. Certain actors like Mandy Moore here as a doctor with a fringe outfit called “The League” has just enough presence to make it work as does Gwendolyn Christie as a bounty hunter. They provide moral and psychological choices for the protagonist which allow her to grow as a character.

What the film itself owes to more than anything, without spoiling anything, is to “Superman”, specifically “II” simply in Clark Kent/Superman understanding the need for a greater good within elements of pain. Two scenes, including one in foreshadowing, give Ruby’s journey a weight that many of the other YA adaptations have lacked. Now granted, this can go awry as the series (should this one be successful) goes on. The smart idea, like the first “Maze Runner”, is that this movie was made for a price which allows it to breathe a bit while not sacrificing its pacing. It is not a perfect movie by any means. The villain quotient pays more than an interesting parallel in certain ways to “The Hunger Games”. However the elegant, if that word can be used, aspect of this kind of storytelling is that it takes into case bigger themes and archetypes at play. While mind control plays a part, there are no cell phones anywhere in this movie which is an interesting observation overall as well. The only red herring of the film is inherent in its set up which is the “why” aspect in terms of what causes the children to change. This suspension of disbelief is necessary and inherent to make the movie work but its structure and basis is nonetheless elusive creating a slight hole is what is otherwise a solidly made film.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

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IR Film Review: MAZE RUNNER – THE DEATH CURE [20th Century Fox]

The essence of “The Maze Runner” folds into the idea of isolationism against all odds. What the trilogy and this part in particular points to is that only through sacrifice and loss can the true battles be won. Thomas may be the savior that possibly has the cure but it is those who ultimately push their lives to the breaking point that really shine. Thomas Brodie Sangster brings a soulfulness to Newt that even in dark moments seems to shine through. While melodrama does have possibility here, it is sometimes in lingering too long on a scene instead of simply letting it be. Rosa Salazar, former indie film darling, who takes on the mantle of “Alita: Battle Angel” next summer, plays in the background here but it is her unrequited love and allegiance for Thomas that shines through. Dylan O’Brien, like many Batman types before him, has to keep the plot flowing which is inextrictably linked to Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). While the path to absolution is not an easy one, the inclusion of certain break and run sequences while interesting in terms of action interplay adds little. The opening train rescue though keys in the best of Old Western with the new Fast & Furious mentality. Ultimately an ending for the saga, the epilogue speaks well to the reasoning of the trajectory though ultimately the balance of what it means to escape from The Glade is lost. Thomas is supposedly the Chosen One but is it just by fate or sheer will.

C

By Tim Wassberg