“The Darkest Minds” (2018)

Action

Running Time: 105 minutes

Written by: Chad Hodge

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson

Featuring: Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore, and Gwendoline Christie

Liam:We’re going to a place where kids can live together on the outside. The only people who would ever help us are us.”

This month heralded the release of the latest young adult (YA) adaptation onto DVD and Blu-ray, that being the box offie bomb “The Darkest Minds” (2018). Unfortunately this movie was not a critical success either it was about as routine as they get as far as plot and narrative go, however this movie also had the audacity to not only riff on just about every other YA adaptation that has ever existed, but to also take a big leaf out of the Marvel Comics title ‘X-Men’, in particular the themes from “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2016) which just goes to illustrate how limiting many of these YA adaptions can be as well as how much audiences have had enough, staying away in droves. There is no doubt that the nadir of YA adaptations is “The Hunger Games” (2011-2014) which was not only a behemoth at the box office but was also embraced (mostly) by critics and helped launch the career of Jennifer Lawrence as well as cementing a career for director Francis Lawrence, the low point although not definitively was the cheap imitation, the “Divergent” (2014-present) which devolved so quickly over its instalments that the studio all but gave up on the final one, with audiences being apathetic about its fate, there is no outcry for the final instalment from anyone. Where “The Darkest Minds” fits is questionable, but it was an abject misfire, so it fits somewhere near the bottom of the heap, which considering its pedigree is not surprising at all. Not only was it uninspired but its plot and narrative were paint by numbers to such an extent that any possible originality was sucked out by the poor acting, formulaic screenplay as well as directing that was more television-like from the early 2000s than something that begged to be seen on the big screen. In fact this may have been better as a television adaption except that “The Gifted” (2017-present) beat it to the punch with more engaging characters, better special effects and a plot that makes sense with fewer red herrings than it should have to keep audiences interested. Its never easy being at the end of anything so this movie comes at the end of a long movement of YA movies that have for the most part been failures, I am not sure what the production company was thinking as to why this would be any different, it may have been the modest budget, but this movie will definitely not make its money back.

“The Darkest Minds” has been directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson who is best known for directing the animated sequels “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011) and “Kung Fu Panda 3” (2016) which were both surprising for being excellent movies in their own right with great stories as well as being very good looking and well directed. However for her live action debut Nelson has been lumbered with an unoriginal as well as lumbering script by a screenwriter who has never written a movie before. The issues are numerable, some of then being characters entering then exiting the narrative for no real credible reason, objectives of groups of characters that are unclear, the reason for varying choices are not explained as are the parameters of the young people’s abilities, not only all of that but social ramifications are left on the side of the road to be replaced by a clumsy love story that not only seems out of place but inappropriate. Looking at a similarly themed movie like “Children of Men” (2006) where there were no children there was a deep dive into what that would do to society at large, here in this movie it is given maybe two lines of explanation about the breakdown of society. This leads to another problem, with a budget of only US$34 million dollars, seemingly much of that spent on shooting outdoors as well as CGI there are few resource left to show a macro look at the world left after apparently man of the planets children have died which is a crime as it offers an audience little scope to feel the impact of what has occurred, everything is blasé, which is a description that should not be used here. 

So what is this movie about? It revolves around a sudden disease that kills over 98% of the children throughout the United States, leaving the survivors with unusual abilities. As a result, the governments of the world place the survivors in a “rehabilitation camp”, where they attempt to cure the children of their disease, distinguishing them into classes based on their abilities.

The movie is led by three young actors who are all completely out of their depths, they have all appeared in a few movies and television series but lack the experience to really make an impact in this movie, all three are very one note which given the narrative is not what is required. In fact it might seem harsh to look at the performances of these three as well as all the young cast but we have seen all through the history of cinema the ability of young people to give some excellent performances. The adults in the cast Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford and Gwendoline Christie all appear quickly and exit for no good reason quickly as well which boggles the mind as Whitford is an excellent character actor and both Christie and Moore have proven they are solid additions to any movie or television show, they should be supporting the younger actors so they are not left stranded and lost in their own work which is exactly what happens. 

“The Darkest Minds” could have been something special but it relied to heavily on its worn script, its trope laden narrative, poor special effects, archetypal characters, its ripping off of previous super powered movies and the fact that it should have pivoted away from the tired genre it is a part of. After viewing the movie on Blu-ray, I was actually very upset that anyone could make a movie like this that was apathetic to its own genre as well as not showing some real consequences of the main narratives predicament, not only that it used lowest common denominators to express the idea of what the children were going through as well as what the possibilities were for them once they started to grow up. The need for control pf these children was to divide them up by colour which is as simple as things get, it also follows tired tropes from other YA stories, such as using character traits to divide, or peoples trades or any other number of tired reasons to attempt to show how unfairly and one-dimensional people can be treated, when it happened here it was tired and outdated.

I recommend people to really stay away from this movie it is insulting to viewers, the only time I would tell people to watch would be if you are unable to sleep and can catch on a streaming service you already pay for. 

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