The Darkest Minds is an exploration of a dystopian society in which its government and adults fear children and teenagers who have developed superhuman powers after surviving a highly contagious disease. While the movie itself is a long way from being considered as strong as titles like The Hunger Games, it does provide an intriguing and compelling look at many topical issues surrounding our society while introducing fantasy and science fiction elements.
The film practically smacks its audience in the face with topical themes such as the importance of equality in the face of difference, dangers of intolerance and the prevalence of government propaganda. While these topics are important to explore and represent in film, particularly in the dystopia this films creates, making the audience work-even just a little bit- to discover the themes is a much more rewarding experience.
Other themes, however, were much more subtle, to the point where it is even uncertain if they were even specifically intended. The separation of children from their parents, for example, could draw a direct line to the immigration issues that the United States has been facing in recent months.
Frankly, the movie in itself does not do justice to the potential of the topics it addresses, the world in which it creates, or the characters it looks to explore. Even after finishing the movie and feeling lukewarm about the theatrical journey, I am eager to learn more about Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech) and how they traverse this world, as long as it is not in the same caliber of film.
Luckily, there are multiple novels available to explore for audience members who, like me, find themselves wanting more than what the film was able to provide.
Part of the problem that the film faces is spending too much time slowly developing the relationship between Ruby and Liam. While romance is an important part of young adult fiction-even young adult dystopian fiction-not enough time is spent on the setting itself. Other than a couple of rundown malls or gas stations, we are not really shown what the world looks like after all of the children are systematically removed.
All we get is a single statement from Cate (Mandy Moore), a doctor looking to help children who were imprisoned, who quickly explains that most adults have fled to the city for work since not having children around killed the economy.
What do the cities look like? Have children been born since? Are they at risk of contracting the disease? How has the separation of children from their families affected the society? Are all cities slums? What is the public sentiment for the separated children who aren't associated with the government or the resistance?
These are just a few of the questions that could have been explored in place of a weird sock shower scene where Liam tries to convince Ruby to wear his socks. Or, if the sock scene and other love interest scenes were considered paramount to the entire story, just add more time to the story.
As an audience member, I would have enjoyed the movie much more if there had been an extra thirty minutes exploring the powers and society in the aftermath of the disease. Love interests generally add a compelling element to a good story (i.e. Hunger Games) but, unless you are watching a Nicholas Sparks movie, it is generally never a good sign when a love interest is used as the primary evocation of emotion, especially in a fantasy film that includes superpowers (looking at you, Twilight).
Also, the exposition we do get that explain the power system in The Darkest Minds is elementary and underwhelming at best. I have a couple qualms about the superpowers. Firstly: why is mind control, a power that completely takes over a person or group of people, considered less dangerous than someone who can breathe fire? Secondly, could we possibly have come up with a power a little bit more original than fire-breathing?
Despite the writing problems that this story faces, the cast of this film was generally surprisingly strong. Amandla Stenberg gives a stellar performance for the role she was given and, in congruence with one of the many themes it looks to wrestle with, the entire cast is both diverse and shows highlights of chemistry on the big screen. By the end of the film, I even felt attached to Even Miya Cech's character, Zu, a girl with zero audible lines in the entire feature.
Unfortunately, The Darkest Minds fails to live up to the genre or the potential of its own story, and, despite its best effort to create an ending that leaves the audience wanting more, it is likely to experience the same fate as Eragon (2006) and The Last Airbender (2010) as it quietly fades out of memory in favor of the source material.