The Darkest Minds
Starring Amandla Stenberg, Harris Dickinson, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Gwendoline Christie, Patrick Gibson, Miya Cech
Most of the time, a movie’s ingredients (i.e. director, visual effects, screenwriter, etc) predict how well a project will fare both in the eyes of audiences and critics. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson is transitioning from “Kung Fu Panda” (animated) to live action with “The Darkest Minds” and it’s an unsteady shift. Here we have another young adult series, desperate to become the next money-making franchise. Will “The Darkest Minds” go the way of long-running installment series like “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” and “Maze Runner?” Or fall on the opposite spectrum, ending up in the “failed to ignite bin” like: “The Mortal Instruments,” “The Golden Compass,” “The Giver,” or “The Host?” The answer is the latter.
90 percent of all the world’s children have died. The world in shock at the loss, but the government is more concerned with those who survived. Surviving children have special powers that the government has classified by colors. Green is on the bottom of the scale (approachable) going up to the orange and red levels, which result in instant termination. Ruby was an ordinary 10-year-old one minute and the next she was thrust into a work camp for the children who survived. She is a level orange with immense powers that allow her to influence the thoughts of others simply by touch. Years later as a teenager, with the help of The Children’s League, she escapes and then escapes again, finding a group of similar children in search of a promised land for people like her.
Offers nothing we haven’t seen before or can’t get from some other franchise with a higher production value.
“The Darkest Minds” is the result of 20th Century Fox losing faith in their longstanding X-Men franchise and desperately trying to replace it. Neither screenwriter has feature film experience. What script writing they have done is on less than great television shows. The dialogue, especially from the Liam character, is riddled with clichés. When they are not talking, the characters act out scenes that feel lifted from some episodic teenage superhero series. Amandla Stenberg who played memorable character Rue in “The Hunger Games” and more recently seen in the teenage love story “Everything, Everything,” is a talented young actress who isn’t getting good roles. Harris Dickinson, however, goes from the very gritty indie drama “Beach Rats” to something that will allow mainstream audiences to discover him for the first time.
Ruby is essentially a reimagined Jean Grey in this bargain bin version of “X-Men.” This film spends nearly two hours trying to convince the audience (and undoubtedly financiers) that they need more of what this story is offering. Yet, it offers nothing we haven’t seen before or can’t get from some other franchise with a higher production value. In almost every scene or set piece, the characters find what they think is a safe place only to be forced to escape some pitfall after a few minutes. This process is repeated again and again.
The initial set up is interesting with Bradley Whitford as the US President, Mandy Moore as a mysterious doctor, and “Game of Thrones” Gwendoline Christie as a bounty hunter. The story takes a major nosedive with love triangles, eye-rolling pop-song moments and a laughable stand-off sequence between what looks like Sasha Obama and Barron Trump in the future (it can’t be unseen). The extremely narrow audience target will be the final nail in this wanna-be franchise’s coffin. It won’t appeal to adults; even older teens are likely to laugh at what’s being presented. “Darkest Mind’s” confined appeal to 10 – 15-year-olds will be its ultimate downfall.
This off-brand X-Men wanna-be is full of clichés from novice filmmakers that are hoping for a franchise that will never materialize.