Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Screenplay: Chad Hodge
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie
Runtime: 105 Minutes
It doesn’t make a much sense why The Darkest Minds even exists in 2018. The much wrung out subgenre of adaptations of dystopian young adult novels pretty much announced its end as soon as The Hunger Games series bowed out back in 2015, and the last remnants of started series all either petered out or were altogether scrapped in the following years.
Starting a new franchise on the backwash of all of that never seemed wise anyway, especially given this film’s long development history and it’s eventual manifestation here, but the film – based on the Alexandra Bracken’s book series of the same name – only fulfils the basic requirements of the genre and offers literally nothing new of substance that hasn’t already been done better by other films before it.
Once again speaking to the easy to grasp concepts of young adult fiction, it follows a group of teenagers who are on the run from the government after everyone below the age of 18 mysteriously obtains superpowers. Along the way there’s a trite romantic subplot, falling in line with resistances, easy to predict betrayals and the central character of Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) possibly being the key to uniting all existing fractions.
It’s about as paint-by-numbers as it sounds in all honesty, and as much as the kids seem to by earnestly emoting at all times there isn’t any real gravity felt. Most of that is down to the budget and scope being so small and there never being a sense of what’s happening to the world, even given Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s decent visual eye and the generally handsome looking effects and cinematography.
But it’s all in service of a screenplay and a source material that isn’t interested in telling a single story, and instead stretching out it’s probably chosen one narrative for another two films (which this is not going to get). So very little actually unfolds, and a lot of it feels like the filler that would be used to fill in the gaps between the set pieces of better films like it.
There’s also the baffling way in which it manages to be so broad in its sense of theme that it doesn’t really end up being about anything other than wheeling out the old chestnut of being a social outcast and embracing who you are.
At least the Divergent series had its fractions separated like a high school cafeteria, this uses its bands of colour branded outcasts to classify their power bands (which still don’t really make sense when thought about) and drops awful lines such as “we don’t segregate by colour here” as if that’s meant to make it more about something that in actually is. There’s also a bit of a misjudged scene that has rapey undertones that doesn’t really feel at place with the rest of it in context
The young Amandla Stenberg is decent in the lead, and it’s sadly fitting that given her casting as Rue in the first Hunger Games movie that she’s leading the one to more or less end the cycle, but the supporting cast doesn’t really get much out of their rote characters. There’s a supporting cast of adults on hand such as Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie and Bradley Whitford, but they’re underused and underserved and look like they were kept on hand to bring back at a later point (which, again, this is not going to get).
Even as something that is essentially X-Men meets The Hunger Games, this struggles to deliver on its most basic requirements. It’s not a chore to sit through, but it is a snore to listen to and the self-serious tone and half-formed plot points don’t do it any favours.