Courtesy of Fox
The term “Based on the best selling novel” is starting to become a plague that we can’t outrun.
From “The 5th Wave,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and so on, Hollywood always seems to be aggressively turning mediocre young adult adaptations into full length features in hopes of finding the next “The Hunger Games.”
“The Darkest Minds” gives movies like “The Hunger Games” a bad name.
Giving the vibe of a weepy teenage soap opera, “The Darkest Minds” comes across as a D-grade “X-Men” then a coming-of-age hurrah with kids who happen to possess special abilities.
The plot is also derivative, where, in the future, kids are slowly dying from a worldwide epidemic that’s hastily explained to be linked to some form of genetic disorder. At one point, a newscast proclaims that 90% of the children’s population are dying. Some, however, are not, and since this is a predictably silly expenditure, we can guess why certain kiddos aren’t biting the dust like their peers.
Cut to six years, and - turned out - those who survived the disease had something worth exploring: unnamed capabilities that, depending on your color (Blue, Green, or Yellow) meant you had powers the government could use to their advantage. Just don’t be an Orange or Red, because, well, that means your dangerous.
If you’re a Blue, you can mangle with electromagnetic waves, Green means you’re textbook smart and Yellow…..I’m not really sure what Yellow’s actually do. But Orange is the most lethal next to Red whom literally breath fire like dragons (I wish that was a joke, this movie would’ve been much better had it played up the campiness). Then again, it would’ve been nice to learn more about the logistics of each color, but the movie is so focused on moving from one inept plot point to the next, it never slows down for you to care.
As for the characters, frequent young adult adaptation offender Amandla Stenberg (“Everything, Everything”) plays Ruby, a rare breed of Orange, who can manipulate thoughts, control humans and erase herself from the memories of those closest to her. After barely escaping from an internment camp (which houses and enslaves every color except Orange’s and Red’s for the governments own slick agenda), Ruby squads up with a local brigade that are on the run, among them a heartthrob named Liam (Harris Dickinson) which induces a very tedious and headache inducing romance that clunks you on the head repeatedly.
Not to mention the others, including a forced comic relief named Charles - nicknamed Chubs - played by Skylan Brooks who couldn’t conjure a single chuckle from this critic; a young girl named Zu (Miya Cech) whose background is never explained properly; and a wise-guy like oracle dubbed “Slip Kid” (on account of he escaped custody four times) who has built a sanctuary for these kids in hopes of propitiating a decent future. And if the movie didn’t need to be more jam packed, it takes heavy hitters like Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore and Gwendoline Christie and tosses them in thankless roles for approximately five minutes in hopes it will resonant with its audience.
It never does.
None of these kids have the spunk or charamisa to lead a film of this caliber, nor can they create believable relationships that don't sink to ABC family levels. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (in her first live-action film post “Kung Fu Panda”) can’t compete with what’s on display. The visual effects often get away from her, looking as though they could’ve spent a few more weeks getting polished in post-production, and she never pulls raw performances from her young cast. They look lost. Perhaps a better title would be “The Confused Minds?”
If you manage to stay in it till the end, you’ll see that Nelson and her team hope to start a potential franchise, and let’s hope that never happens. There’s only so much angsty teens the world can handle.
With that said, “The Darkest Minds” will likely satisfy its core demographic of 10-13 year olds, but they’ll eventually mature into fine individuals who will (hopefully) be able to sniff out a dud like this from miles away. For now, they’ll have to settle until they grow up and can see how it oughta be done.