The Darkest Minds recycles the gist of what we’ve seen in prior YA dystopian adaptations while ripping off Marvel and others in the process.
The film’s prologue, which complete wastes The West Wing alumnus Bradley Whitford’s President Gray, sets up the film. Children across the country are getting ill. This mysterious illness is referred to as IAAN (Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration). Despite claims to the contrary, not even the CDC can find a cure. Those children who survive get separated from the parents and rounded up in camps. If you’re coded orange or red, you’re left for dead. What’s happening in the real-world couldn’t be more, ummm, timely. If you’re orange, you can perform Jedi mind tricks!
After the prologue, the film jumps head some six years. All the adults have moved into the larger cities since the economy died. Business have been deserted in the smaller towns leaving people to fend for themselves.
After escaping the clutches of the segregated-by-color government-run Thurmond camp, Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) makes a run for it with Cate (Mandy Moore). When Cate learns of Ruby’s true color, she decides to take her to the League. Ruby is still unsure of what’s happening so she ends up joining Liam Stewart (Harris Dickinson), Zu (Miya Cech), and Chubs (Skylan Brooks). They’re in search of this safe haven, East River, for survivors. Liam isn’t a fan of the League so he’s glad to have Ruby on board. Even though Ruby and Liam are developing feelings for each other, Ruby is afraid to get too close, lest something happen to him like her parents.
The four of them have to rely on each other for survival. They don’t have any other choice since there are tracers (bounty hunters) always on the hunt.
This film is the first in a planned trilogy based on the first three novels in the series written by Alexandra Bracken. All of these YA novels blur together after a while but the core things tend to stay the same. The film even makes reference to which characters that Ruby and Liam would be in Harry Potter! There have been enough YA films to the point in which we now have tropes for the genre. There’s the female lead saving the day. The male love interest. The bad guy who befriends you before betraying you. The film will appeal to the book’s readers more than anyone else.
The film suffers from the YA bubble burst despite some much-needed diversity among the leading cast members. Some of the major themes of the film such as being true to yourself can be seen as metaphors for the vulnerable LGBTQ youth population. There’s been a handful of YA films in the last decade but the genre needs a fresh take rather than recycled bits. I love a good female empowerment story as much as the next woman but, again, it’s all been done before!
Unfortunately for director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, her first live-action film is well after the YA adaptation bubble burst. Not everything is going to be The Hunger Games!
In spite of its well-meaning intentions, The Darkest Minds won’t be the franchise-starting film that it needs to be.
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
SCREENWRITER: Chad Hodge
CAST: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Patrick Gibson, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Wade Williams, Mark O’Brien, and Gwendoline Christie