The Darkest Minds is the film adaptation of the popular young adult novel by Alexandra Bracken. Much like The Hunger Games and The Divergent Series, a teenage girl rebels against a dystopian society with a scrappy team in tow. I must confess to being horribly bored with this genre. This latest iteration is unfortunately much of the same, but with an added measure of confusion mixed in. The primary characters are likeable, but the plot is terribly disjointed. The film is badly edited and lacks a cohesive flow. The Darkest Minds is a poor live action debut for Jennifer Yuh Nelson, the superb animation director of the last two Kung Fu Panda films.
The Darkest Minds takes place in modern day Virginia. A disease called IAAN, drumroll please, Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration, has killed most of America's children. The remaining survivors exhibit strange powers and are deemed a threat by the US government. The children are herded into concentration camps, where they are separated into different colors based on their abilities. Orange and Red are the most dangerous. These children are executed immediately once they are identified.
Amandla Stenberg stars as Ruby, a sixteen year old girl who has been in a camp for six years. She's secretly an Orange, but used her powers to pass as a Blue. Just as Ruby is about to be discovered, she escapes with the help of a mysterious woman (Mandy Moore). But Ruby is unsure of which adults to trust. Ruby soon finds herself on a road trip of sorts with another group of escapees. Their leader, Liam (Harris Dickinson), becomes quickly enamored. The teens must fight to survive as they travel to a fabled safe haven.
How can the human race continue to exist if most children are dead and the rest are quarantined? The film feints at the government using a possible cure as propaganda, but this issue is never really addressed. In fact, the whole epidemic and disease aftermath flashes by in mere minutes during the open. We arrive at Ruby as a teenager too quickly. Jennifer Yuh Nelson and screenwriter Chad Hodge needed a lot more exposition. Readers of the book will know the setup, but it's a head scratcher for us neophytes.
The Darkest Minds leaps from scene to scene. Ruby's adventure plays out like a roll of the dice board game. The teens spend most of the film traveling in a delivery van. They magically appear from point to point. You'd think a bunch of kids, in a society sans freewheeling youngsters, would be spotted driving around. It makes no sense at all. There isn't a narrative thread that connects the settings together.
I don't want to be too harsh, because the cast is effective. Amandla Stenberg plays Ruby with just the right amount of determination and melancholy. Her burgeoning romance with Harris Dickinson will have the tweenage audiences hearts a flutter. There's a sweetness between the lead characters that is the best part of the film. It seems hormones are impervious to dystopian intervention.
The Darkest Minds is the first installment of six novels. Twentieth Century Fox needs a much better second film to give this franchise legs. The good news is that they have a solid cast. They just need a better script, and more experienced director for the sequel.