Midnight Special is a road movie, and the bulk of its story takes place in the rear-view mirror. Who is this kid, and what are the extent and origin of his strange powers? Why are he and his family being relentlessly pursued by a religious cult and the FBI? Where are they going, and why? Amid the frenetic chase, Midnight Special selectively doles out backstory with patient precision, which makes it quite compelling early on, and its structure suggests one of two outcomes:
The destination will reveal a sublime truth that alters our understanding of the characters and their motivations.
The kid is a MacGuffin and the destination doesn’t actually matter, but the chase he provokes brings about a meaningful change in the protagonists and their relationships.
Despite all of its careful exposition in the first half, there’s still a fair amount of runway left in the film by the time its chosen path becomes clear. Sapped of most of its mystique, the remainder of the chase coasts to an underwhelming payoff.