The Darkest Minds is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, and is based on the novel by Alexandra Bracken. The film stars Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Bradley Whitford, Skylan Brooks, and Harris Dickinson.
A mysterious outbreak kills most of the children in the world, with the small percent of surviving kids developing strange powers. They are then rounded up and taken into camps where they will supposedly be cured, but many of those aware of the government’s cover-ups have escaped, living on the run. A young girl named Ruby is sent to one of the camps, but is taken out and later escapes to meet another group of young people on the run. In their travels, as they seek out a compound of other kids like them, they must evade the capture of dangerous bounty hunters and unexpected threats.
Young adult novel adaptations are hitting cinemas at breakneck speed, and show no signs of letting down. The Darkest Minds, based on Alexandra Bracken’s novel, is the latest in a long line of these seemingly endless releases. While it features a talented young cast, The Darkest Minds is a disaster from start to finish which feels like a second-rate X-Men rip-off, with none of the elements which made that film series so successful and enjoyable. It’s derivative, poorly written, full of plot holes, and never makes you care about its characters, plot, or any other elements. If nothing else, it’s only 105 minutes long, so it’s over a lot faster than other movies in this overblown genre.
If I must give the film credit in one area, it’s casting. The young actors in the film have tremendous potential, and I’ve got no doubt several of them are sure to be on their way to strong futures. Amandla Stenberg has already proven herself in a handful of feature film roles, and the rest of the cast manages to do what they can with what they’re given. Everyone’s got a highlight here and there, even if most of these moments are brief, and the best moments are usually Skylan Brooks’ one-liners. I’ll also give a mention to the run time being shorter than other young adult novel adaptations; if nothing else that’s a welcome change.
Unfortunately, absolutely nothing else about the movie works. The overall plot is a thinly-veiled rip-off of X-Men, though with none of the deeper themes or characters. The characters in The Darkest Minds are one-dimensional stereotypes we’ve seen in a million other films, something which is also true of the movie’s plot. For being a dystopian world, our heroes always manage to look their best, and have a surprisingly large wardrobe of clothing to choose from! Furthermore, the filmmakers seemed to forget they were making a bleak film set in a dark time, and include many upbeat modern pop songs and montages which feel like they belong in a completely different movie. Hell, even the final scene of the film feels directly lifted/ripped off from The Hunger Games (which coincidentally also featured Amandla Stenberg). Additionally, despite her high billing, Gwendoline Christie is barely in the movie at all (which ironically mirrors the fate of her Star Wars character, Captain Phasma). Some of the exchanges between characters are laughably bad and wooden, including a scene where a male character tries to tell a female character she's beautiful while dancing with her.
The writing of the film is just lazy, and the filmmakers/writers clearly didn’t give much thought to planning out this world. One scene in the movie (I won’t spoil what it is) is directly ripped off from the original Star Wars (believe me, you’ll know it when you see it). Hell, the main character’s “power” is basically the Jedi mind trick! The characters are able to travel with surprisingly little threat in many scenes, and at one point are somehow able to get a hotel room even though the government is supposedly hunting down all kids. Places to raid conveniently have everything the characters need, even though in a settling like this such place would already have been raided by kids on the run, or the adults. And while we’re at it, where are all the civilian adults? Would it have killed them to give us a look at what their lives are like? You get the impression it's a condensed version of the original novel which cuts out a lot of necessary exposition. The fact that the filmmakers had the audacity to use the ending of the movie to set up a sequel is equally cringe-inducing.
Exactly who this film was made for is another point of contention. Essentially it feels like a lighter, emo version of the X-Men with overly sanitized violence, but occasionally treads into darker territory, including what basically amounts to an attempted rape scene of sorts. Few movies combine a shopping mall montage set to poppy music and bleak, dark changes in tone. The Darkest Minds can’t decide which audience it wants to please, and everyone on all fronts will likely be disappointed as a result.
Don’t bother with The Darkest Minds. If you want a great film series about mutated youths, go watch X-Men. If you want a bleak, post-apoc movie series based on a young adult novel series, go watch The Hunger Games. If you want something original, you’re not going to find it here. Don’t waste your time.
Rating: One half star out of four.
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