The Darkest Minds, 2018.
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
Starring Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Patrick Gibson, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Wade Williams, Mark O’Brien, Wallace Langham, Golden Brooks, Catherine Dyer, and Gwendoline Christie.
Imprisoned by an adult world that now fears everyone under 18, a group of teens form a resistance group to fight back and reclaim control of their future
Amidst being on the run from various oppressive factions (as par for the course with young adult dystopian products) and searching for a sanctuary hideout, the teenagers at the center of The Darkest Minds take it upon themselves to explore a rundown abandoned mall while some annoying bubblegum pop music plays. It’s one of many moments where I realized that I probably wasn’t the target demographic for the film, but at the same time, much of what is here is a disjointed, plodding chess-placement introduction for a hopeful franchise that I can safely say will never go beyond this installment, not just because of the recent buyout from Disney but also due to the quality itself, regardless of who this is aimed at.
To be fair, considering the children growing up in this story (the film is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson who is most notable for helming the second and third parts of the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, and adapted from the novel by Alexandra Bracken with a script from Chris Hodge) are either living in internment camps (an inexplicable disease wipes out 98% of the world’s children, rather unintentionally hilarious like most scenes in the movie I should add, leaving the remaining 2% with what essentially amounts to superpowers and feared by adults) or living in hiding away from those wrangling them up, I suppose they have never really had time to enjoy the pleasures of a shopping outlet, but still, the execution is cringe-worthy instead of character drove. With that said, the film also pushes a romance plot hard between the last remaining code orange, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg receiving an opportunity of heading up her own young adult franchise after playing a fan favorite character in The Hunger Games) and Liam (Harris Dickinson) that has no spark or chemistry, complete with an ending sequence intended to be emotionally gripping that just falls flat; you will be already heading for the door by the time the credits roll.
It’s no secret that the plot of The Darkest Minds is all over the place; it can’t make up its mind on if it wants to be another revolution style film, a freewheeling journey exploring the way these kids learn to live with their abilities (they range from mind control to manipulating and throwing objects and more), or a love story. Just for good measure, there is some unbelievably bad comedic relief from the super intelligent Charles (nicknamed Chubs, but only true friends get to call him that). I’m assuming it also thinks it’s clever and socially relevant by classifying people by codename colors designating their levels of danger and making life harder on those more threatening.
There is a small, morbidly curious part of me that really wants to read the script for this mess because I can’t believe a movie just decides to introduce characters played by notable actors such as Bradley Whitford and Mandy Moore only to completely shove them aside and do nothing with them, showing the confidence from this filmmaking team that they would apparently get a crack at a sequel. The antagonistic militia is as generic as can be, filled with southern drawling, baldheaded white dudes doing their job keeping the kids in line and occasionally abusing them. Apparently, Gwendoline Christie is also in this movie, but I could not tell you who she played which is all you need to know about how little this movie does with any of its characters.
Here’s the thing, the direction from Jennifer Yuh Nelson actually isn’t bad. There is a halfway decent vehicle chase halfway through the movie that benefits from powers being utilized in logical ways with the benefit of some respectable special-effects. She’s also not bad at getting a good performance from Amandla Stenberg and some of the other teenagers. The problem is that there was no way she could win with the script she was handed. The Darkest Minds isn’t concerned with telling a coherent story showing us interesting characters, only existing to set up a franchise. That failed, but worst of all, everything in this movie we have seen before and done better. I admit the film has a fairly diverse cast and is directed by a woman, all things that we should celebrate in the industry, but with that said there is still absolutely no reason to go see this disaster of a film.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com