Given that the young adult novel adaption phase has seemingly fizzled out, a product like The Darkest Minds feels like it’s arriving a good 5 years too late. There’s only so much one can do with these apocalyptic-centric tales, and whilst Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s outing does little to differentiate itself from contemporaries such as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, she injects it with just enough heart to keep it mildly engaging.
Not as heavy on the action as the trailers would have you believe (those expecting an X-Men vibe will be sorely disappointed), The Darkest Minds wastes little time in setting up its premise revolving around a deadly disease that wipes out over 90% of the world’s children. There’s no explanation as to why such a small percentage survived, but the ones that do all appear to be gifted with various supernatural abilities, including mind control and manipulating electricity.
One of the survivors, young Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), is roped into a concentration camp of sorts with her fellow enhanced peers, and on the eve of a planned execution, she is rescued by a kindly doctor (Mandy Moore) whose intentions may not be as pure as Ruby would like. Ruby being known as an “orange” – a colour on the high-end of the danger chart the children are ranked by – means she’s ultimately too powerful for the government to control, and sensing danger from her supposed rescuer she manages to set up camp with a group of fellow escapees, all differing in their abilities, who have plans to travel to a supposed sanctuary for the children that have escaped.
As exciting and potentially action-filled that all sounds, The Darkest Minds is more intent on skewering its audience towards a romantic angle, and though the courtship between Ruby and the gifted Liam (Harris Dickinson) is sub-par and terribly familiar, the film is mildly elevated by Stenberg and Dickinson’s chemistry; a moment towards the end of the film between the two is surprising in the genuine emotion it manages to evoke despite the tripe that has preceded.
It’s obvious that The Darkest Minds was made with intent to tell further stories, and though it’s underwhelming monetary response so far indicates a sequel of any sort is unlikely, it wraps itself up satisfactorily enough to stand as its own product; if anything, this film needed further explanation into its backstory as opposed to the future it wishes to focus on.
Sitting comfortably in the middle ground of teen fare between the nausea of Twilight and the solidity of The Hunger Games, The Darkest Minds squanders its potential to be a truly exciting sci-fi series but stops itself short of being a complete waste of time thanks to a smattering of interesting ideas and a wonderful lead turn from Stenberg who makes the predictability on hand feel fresh due to a dedicated performance that belongs in a stronger film.
About The Darkest Minds
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 realises 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 Darkest Minds (M) is in Australian cinemas with a release date of 16th August 2018.