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The Darkest Minds – Movie Review

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The Darkest Minds – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Jennifer Yuh Nelson has already proven her directorial talents with her splendidly made Kung Fu Panda sequels, so it’s exciting to see her jump into live-action filmmaking. With an intriguing premise and some magical teenagers, The Darkest Minds has the potential to rise above other young adult adaptations. However, despite some neat moments and solid acting, it can’t seem to avoid the trappings of its sub-genre with cheesy lines and social commentary that isn’t fully explored. Its clear what Nelson wants to do with this story, but The Darkest Minds ends up sitting alongside the Maze Runners and Divergents as just another dystopian young people’s tale.

The Darkest Minds cuts quickly to the chase by establishing children dying of a mysterious illness and those who are then granted magical abilities. Most YA futuristic stories usually begin after society has fallen apart, so there is a chance of this film taking things in a different direction. An early scene with children in cages sadly recalls recent events and the film also establishes young people being divided in colour groups, promising some social commentary. However, the film quickly ignores this as the main hero Ruby goes on the run. Despite the promise of seeing Bradley Whitford as the American President who takes disastrous measures in dealing with a crisis, his screentime is cut extremely short.

Amandla Stenberg does manage to carry the material with a sympathetic portrayal of Ruby. She properly portrays the sadness upon carrying a serious burden with her. Less believable is the romance that ensues between Ruby and Harris Dickinson’s Liam. Their scenes together are when The Darkest Minds is at its corniest. Nelson does enjoy showcasing the various powers, although some are more interesting than others. While a few young people are able to manipulate minds and create electricity, others merely possess hyper intelligence, which is not nearly as cinematically entertaining to watch unfold. The action scenes are well directed, particularly an early car chase, with Nelson having solid command of the visual effects.

The third act is when The Darkest Minds start to show more of its flaws. The villain makes for a weak foe and even the fights lack that pizzazz from earlier. The dialogue becomes more cliché-ridden and a lot of the hallmarks of the YA genre begin to pop up. Disappointingly, the film ends with a conclusion that immediately sets up a potential next chapter. Whether there will be a second film depends on the final box-office grosses, but with how few movies are guaranteed successes, it’s a bold and risky move to finish without a proper ending. It’s also frustrating for an audience who may not find those loose ends tangled up.

With the talent involved, The Darkest Minds comes with added expectations. The final result being so middling just makes it more disappointing. How much creative control Jennifer Yuh Nelson had on this project remains to be seen, but she will definitely make better films in the future. She does have a flair for action scenes and directing younger actors, but a corny love story and absurd plot turns get in the way of the potential drama. The Darkest Minds also feels like a lingering remnant of a movie trend that has recently sputtered to an end. It would have been nice if this brought fresh elements to the table, but it falls short.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison