Film Review – The Darkest Minds
The Darkest Minds
Another day, another Y.A. adaptation.
The Darkest Minds (2018) highlights something I’ve found increasingly troubling with Y.A. novels brought to the big screen: future adults hate kids. In The Hunger Games series, kids are randomly chosen to participate in a murder contest as a form of entertainment to the masses. In the Divergent franchise, teenagers are forced to segregate into different groups based on their unique characteristics. Won’t somebody think of the children? But alas, they are often the target of disdain and hate by the establishment. Sure, I understand the set up rides the idea that kids have the ability to do great things, but it’s strange to think that of all society they are the ones who are mistreated.
It’s no different this go around. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and written by Chad Hodge (adapting Alexandra Bracken’s novel), The Darkest Minds plays like a watered down version of a Y.A. greatest hits album. All the major tropes are here: a soundtrack chock full of bland pop songs, kids suffering under oppression, a future world on the brink of collapse, and the one soul who has the power and influence to change things for the better. Oh and we must not forget the blossoming “Will they or won’t they?” romance. I don’t mind a film going through familiar motions of a genre as long as it provides a new spin on the material. This production plays by the numbers, never creating a unique identity to separate it from the pack. What do we get here that wasn’t done exactly the same as before? We come out of it thinking how it compares to other Y.A. adaptations instead of standing on its own two feet.
In this universe, we learn of an outbreak that spreads amongst young people. Those that survived the disease soon developed supernatural capabilities. How does this work scientifically? Don’t ask. What was supposed to be a breakthrough of human evolution is deemed a threat by adults. Where is the logic in that thinking? Don’t ask. As a result, the establishment locked those with powers in internment camps, separating them based on their danger level. Teens who are considered “Green” exhibit enhanced intelligence, “Yellow” has the power to manipulate electricity, and “Blue” people can move objects with their mind. “Orange” and “Red” subjects are the most rare and the most dangerous, exhibiting the power to control minds and throw flames from their mouths. Why do adults automatically think that teens with powers will suddenly go crazy and start killing everyone? Don’t ask.
And that is where we meet our protagonist Ruby (Amandla Stenberg). Ruby is an extremely powerful Orange, whose mind control powers draws the interest of friends and enemies alike. Estranged from her family and dealing with her newly acquired gifts, Ruby joins up with fellow teens Liam (Harris Dickinson), Zu (Miya Cech), and Chubs (Skylan Brooks) as they make their way to a hidden compound where people like them can live freely without the tyranny of government influence. Of course, we wouldn’t have a movie if things went smoothly, and thus the group encounters a number of obstacles in their path – including a renegade named Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie) who operates like a bounty hunter, as well as a mysterious faction known as The League, headed by Mandy Moore’s chief physician character.
Nelson’s direction showcases a few nice flashes. One of the stronger moments features Kramer Morgenthau’s camera taking a high angle wide shot looking down on a lot of abandoned yellow buses, giving us an eerie metaphor for the young lives that have been lost during this struggle. Maryann Brandon and Dean Zimmerman’s editing work best when Ruby enters someone’s mind, cutting back and forth between their memories and her own painful past. But these highlights are few and far between. Filling in for the rest is uninspired dialogue mixed with forgettable set pieces. The action sequences leave much to be desired. Zu’s ability to manipulate electricity is the most interesting to watch, but sadly she’s pushed so far into the background that to call her a “supporting character” would be an overstatement.
The Darkest Minds wears its themes so explicitly that I’m surprised we didn’t see someone come up with a sign spelling everything out. Once again, we’re told that it’s “ok to be different” or to “accept others for who they are.” Being a teen is an awkward time in a person’s life, accompanied by a body that seems to be changing on them every day. This will cause them confusion and a feeling of isolation. But as we learn throughout this narrative, there is nothing wrong with that. These aren’t worn out ideas, and in a way the filmmakers should be commended with how earnest they are with their approach. But the material is handled with such a heavy hand that the more appropriate title should have been Puberty: The Movie.