“The Darkest Minds” stars Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech, Mandy Moore, Patrick Gibson, and Gwendoline Christie. Released on August 3, 2018, the film is about a young woman who joins a rebellion filled with super-powered teens against the people who tortured them.
The film is directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who is known for directing the “Kung Fu Panda” sequels. It is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Alexandra Bracken. The young adult genre hasn’t been gathering that much of a crowd recently, with the majority of the people moving on to something else like superhero movies and big-budget action films. However, Hollywood doesn’t give a rat’s butt on what people think of the genre now and are still trying to find another potential young adult franchise that is as successful as the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight. The first time I saw a trailer for this film, I immediately thought of X-Men. I’m serious, it looked like it could actually take place in the X-Men universe based on the concept alone. But that’s not the only reason why the film got my attention. The other reason is that this is the first live-action project for Jennifer Yuh Nelson after working on several animated films as both a storyboard artist and a director, most notably the “Kung Fu Panda” films. Based on her track record, it’ll be interesting to see if her work on live-action can be as successful as her work on animation. With that in mind, let’s see if this latest young adult film has what it takes to become the next Harry Potter.
The story takes place in the near future, where a mysterious disease known as IAAN has wiped almost every child off of the face of the planet. The remaining children that survived, however, managed to gain psychic powers in the process. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well for the government and the parents who are raising their kids. As a result, the government built a series of internment camps to shelter them from the outside world. One of the super-powered kids who are held in the camps is Ruby Daly (Stenberg), a teenager who is classified as one of the strongest super-humans on the planet. When she is able to escape thanks to an anti-government doctor (Moore), Ruby eventually runs into another group of super-powered beings led by Liam Stewart (Dickinson). Together, they must work together to survive and find a safe haven where the other super-humans reside. If you’re the type of person who has read several sci-fi young adult novels, including “Darkest Minds”, there’s a good chance that you’ll spot every single plot element coming a mile away. This is a pretty understandable flaw that’s completely unavoidable because every young adult novel has those types of elements and the fans who adore these novels will eat that stuff up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, if you’ve already grown tired of the genre in general, this one isn’t going to win you over, especially when it has a screenplay that fails to live up to its promising concept. As its own film, it does have several moments that remind me of the other sci-fi young adult films and the X-Men franchise, but it also provide some sort of an effort to make it at least tolerable for certain moviegoers. The actors did a fine job in attempting to make their characters likable, such as Sternberg as Ruby and Dickinson as Liam. Sternberg is no stranger to starring in film adaptations of young adult novels as she appeared in 2012's “The Hunger Games” and last year’s “Everything, Everything”. Based on what I’ve seen from her, she’s got a long way to go if she wants to make it to the big leagues. Same goes to Dickinson as his performance was far from fantastic, but far from terrible, either. There were a couple of actors in the film that I thought could’ve been handled better. One of them is Skylan Brooks as Chubs, one of the super-humans. His role in the movie was suitable, but his attempt at providing humor wasn’t as effective as I thought it would be. The audience around me seemed to have enjoyed it, so I’m guessing I was the only one who didn’t find his humor funny. The other is Gwendoline Christie as the bounty hunter who hunts down Ruby and her friends. I was hoping that her character would give the main heroes a hard time throughout the whole film, but as it turns out, her role was pretty darn short. I haven’t read the books, so I wasn’t sure if this character will make another appearance in the sequels. Another thing that I enjoyed was the visuals. For a movie that has a budget of around $30 million, it had some pretty nifty effects that fit well together with the film's style and the characters’ powers.
Overall, it had its tolerable moments, but “The Darkest Minds” won’t change the way people think about the young adult genre. The effort that was put into this film was there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome its familiar plot elements and its average screenplay. Despite not being impressed with the final result, I’m going to give Jennifer Yuh Nelson some slack since this was her first time directing a live-action project. There’s always time for her to improve from her mistakes before she is asked to helm another live-action film like this. I would easily recommend this film to those who have read the source material. As for those who didn’t, I would say it’s worth watching at home.