THE DARKEST MINDS (5 out of 10) Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson; Written by Chad Hodge; Starring Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie and Skylan Brooks; Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements; Running time 105 minutes; In wide release August 3.
Dystopian flicks are a dime a dozen especially when they feature precocious teenagers as the protagonists. The Maze Runner, Divergent and The Hunger Games, just to name a few, have inundated movie theaters over the last couple of years, so it takes something special to make one stand out as something everyone needs to race to see. The Darkest Minds, sadly, is not one of these films. While it does an impressive job of world building and portraying teen angst, the finished product fails to find itself and falls apart as it tries to weave its story.
In the near future, a mysterious virus has wiped out over 90% of the children. The ones who remain have developed mysterious powers and have been captured by the government and put into camps to train and be experimented on based on their powers — Greens (super intelligence), Blues (telekinesis) and Yellows (control of electricity). The final two, Reds and Oranges, are deemed so dangerous they are either put down or trained to be killers for the Army. Young Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) is put into one of the camps when her abilities as an Orange surface when she turns 10. Able to hide her true identity, she escapes years later and encounters other children on the run from to find a reserve run by kids in East River which is the last safe bastion for them in the world. Pursued by a bounty hunter (Gwendoline Christie) and the U.S. government, Ruby and her newfound friends must use all of their powers to do whatever it takes to reach to safety.
To its credit, The Darkest Minds does a wonderful job of worldbuilding. The mythos created here is interesting and initially draws the viewer in. While superpowers are fantastical, this seemed like an almost realistic X-Men that could possibly take place in the near future. After all, there is so much potential that can still be unlocked in the human brain, who is to say what is really possible?
Amandla Stenberg (Rue from the first Hunger Games), as Ruby, is also fantastic and carries not just action scenes but also the heart and soul of the movie. Watching her go from a scared teenager to the leader and fighter she needs to be by the end of the movie is fascinating. Not just in the way she delivers her lines, but also her movement and just the way she stands evolves from beginning to end, and she is the major bright spot.
Unfortunately, everything else is just a mess. Namely that it can’t figure out if it wants to be an apocalyptic film, one about kids with superpowers, or just dealing with teen angst. So instead of one story that aptly includes all three, we get what almost feels like three separate movies about each subject that were squished together to form a Franken-Movie. The tone and the mood jump between all three so often and quickly, it’s almost enough to make one dizzy.
Liam (Harris Dickinson), the Blue who accompanies Ruby, is so expressionless and devoid of any sort of emotion that a cardboard cutout of the actor would probably have done a better job. Fans of the book will most likely find this irritating because talking to them, he’s apparently a much more dynamic character in that version of the story.
Oh, and can we stop with the attempted rape trope as the biggest threat to a woman? It’s completely overused, not clever and just poor and lazy writing.
Throw in some CGI that looks like it was left on the editing room floor of Iron Man 3 along with some of the weirdest songs ever to be in the score and soundtrack of a movie, and you’ve completed the disfigured creature that is The Darkest Minds.
Unless every teenager in American rushes out this weeked to see it, it’s doubtful more in this series will be made. Which is actually kind of sad because the world set up is interesting and something I want to know more about. I guess I’ll have to resort to reading them in book form to follow the adventures of Ruby and the rest of the kids fighting to reclaim their freedom. Save your money and just watch the Hunger Games series or X-Men: Days of Future Past at home. And then maybe check this one out once it hits Redbox.