I think it’s fair to say that I am not really the target audience for the recent trend of YA dystopian films. Sure some of them have worked, mainly the second and third Hunger Games film, but most of the other ones just didn’t work for me. However, The Darkest Minds grabbed my attention when I found out the director was Jennifer Yuh Nelson, making her live action debut after the excellent work she did on the Kung Fu Panda sequels. However, this film just falls victim to the same issues as other YA dystopian films, making it a disappointing experience.
The film takes place after the outbreak of a virus that killed 90% of the children of the United States, but ended up giving those that survived special powers. The government, afraid of the children, lock them all up in camps, segregating them by powers, and killing the most powerful on sight. The film follows Ruby, who is declared to be one of the most dangerous due to her power of manipulating minds (which led to her accidentally erasing herself from the memory of her parents), who uses the power to hide for several years amongst the less powerful children. However, she is eventually found out and is broken out of her camp, running into several groups along the way, trying to keep her powers hidden. Now the big issue with the film is how it follows the YA tropes without really doing anything with them. There are interesting ideas at play with the children, but nothing that hasn’t been seen before in stuff like the X-Men films, whilst the standard YA love triangle grinds the film to a halt in the second act. This ends up creating an incredibly generic world for the film, not really doing or saying much to make it stand out, even the main conflict with the children is literally spelled out through the characters quoting Watership Down. The plot itself meanwhile is actually fairly confusing for the most part, character motivations changing from scene to scene, a lot of characters disappearing for large chunks of the film only to pop back up near the end, and when they do return, their motivation is completely different to when we first saw them. It feels like all the scenes to build up the world of the film have been cut out completely to focus on the main characters, but that doesn’t work considering how generic the main characters are written.
The cast try to elevate the material but there’s only so much they can do. Amandla Stenburg as Ruby gives a solid performance, some of the emotional beats of the film only working because of her performance, but the character is written badly, her main motivation being completely abandoned halfway through the film, for a reason she should have realised from the start, it just makes the character development feel rushed. Harris Dickinson is a fairly generic love interest, nothing done to really separate him from a character like Gale in the Hunger Games films, Skylan Brooks is a generic nerdy character, Miya Chen is a generic mute character, there’s nothing done to give these characters any real personality. Patrick Gibson gives a somewhat layered performance, but when you stop to think about his motivation, it makes no sense. They get off lightly though compared to Bradley Whitford, Gwendoline Christie and Mandy Moore who are completely wasted, feeling like the characters were only included for sequel bait for a sequel that will not happen.
The technical side of the film is fairly accomplished though. Sure the music choices are as on the nose as possible, but there are some effective individual moments through the way Jennifer Yuh Nelson and DP Kramer Morgenthau set up shots and how Nelson directs the cast. The way the powers are used is effective with fairly decent CG, whilst the use of colour in the first act gives the film a bit of a distinct style, which is quickly abandoned once Ruby escapes the camp she’s held in.
Overall, there isn’t really much to say about The Darkest Minds. There is a germ of a good idea in here and Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Amandla Stenberg are trying to get it out, but they are let down by a script that follows every YA dystopian trope in the book, doing nothing new with the characters or the world, it’s not the low point of the YA dystopian films, that honour will stay with Divergent, but this film suffers from the issue of being so generic. I wish that Nelson had a better film for her live action debut, but I am still hopeful she gets a film worthy of her talents soon.
My Rating: 2/5