Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Harris Dickinson
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby, one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.
The young adult genre of movies is one that can be filled with unique concepts, strong performances from young actors, and a script that tells a clear story while also sending a message that is socially or culturally relevant. Other films within the genre can be generic, boring, and a struggle to get through, and unfortunately these films tend to dominate the creative decisions because they usually make more money than films that try to do something different. The Darkest Minds is an example of the later one, but with not nearly enough pull to warrant the lazy decision-making that plagues this film. Consisting of 105 minutes of a story that does not explain anything and has messages shoehorned into it for no reason, acting that is unconvincing at best, and effects that are sloppy from start to finish, The Darkest Minds provided us nothing that we have not seen before, and is not entertaining enough to warrant its copycat nature.
The film follows Ruby (Stenberg), a teenager in a dystopian society where children have been infected with a disease that either kills them or gives them superpowers. Fearing that these children will cause chaos in the world, the government rounds these kids up and puts them in camps so that their powers can be contained. To start off dissecting the story, we are given no real information about the origins of this disease and how they got into the situation they are in. The film basically says that one girl had the disease and died and then suddenly all children had the disease and needed to be locked away. There is no explanation of symptoms, very few attempts to cure it, and no reasonable responses from the adults. The film also mentions that society is in disarray as the economy has collapsed due to there not being anymore kids. I immediately thought to myself that maybe companies like Crayola would be in trouble, but how would this impact a company like Lockheed Martin or Wal-Mart? There would be a dip in the economy for sure, but then I also thought that these parents losing their kids provides all of them more disposable income than they have had in years, so while some people might lose their jobs, there is no way it would turn into the lawless wasteland that the film portrays it as. Regarding the actual kids in this situation, I found a simple solution to the government’s problem within 15 minutes of the film. It is hard to believe that a group of highly educated and powerful individuals would let society fall into ruin without thinking of an idea that actually helps everyone. Moving on to the acting, most of the younger actors do not exactly thrive in their roles. Stenberg gives a lower than mediocre performance, showing moments of potential in a role that is otherwise dull and unoriginal. The worst of the group has to be Stewart, who as the lead male opposite Stenberg is supposed to be on the same acting level as her. His delivery and attempt to show any sort of emotion fall flat every single time and it honestly makes Stenberg look better just from how bad he is. The only actor that gives a relatively reasonable performance is Skylan Brooks. His jokes land almost all the time and his dramatic scenes are some of the only ones in the movie where I actually care about the characters. Finally, the special effects are laughably bad, as it looks like every action sequence was done in a backlot instead of immersing us in the experience with some better ironed-out shots and stunts. This movie came out one week after Mission Impossible: Fallout, and I know that The Darkest Minds is not on the same playing field on that, but it needs to at least look like it cares. If one movie can show just how impressive your stunts can be, then barring a huge budget all movies can do things to improve their stunts and make them more believable. Combine all of these elements with a moment that really just looks like a forced Me Too/White Male Privilege scene that really makes no sense within the context of the film and you end up with a movie that has nowhere to go from start to finish.
Overall, The Darkest Minds fails to capture any of the energy that even a mediocre young adult movie should have. The story is ridiculous, the pacing is sluggish, and there are very few moments where the film embraces its ridiculousness and plays loose not taking itself seriously. The only moment I will give credit to is when we finally see the high-powered children, because that scene is actually pretty intense, but outside of that the film is just summer filler. The film’s ending includes one of the dumbest clichés in movies with a cliffhanger ending, but based on how this film is performing, we will never see the other half of this story.
Overall Score: 3/10