The Darkest Minds review - a by-the-numbers sci-fi dystopia for Generation Z
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Based on yet another young adult book franchise, The Darkest Minds has all the tropes and trademarks of a dystopian thriller for the post-Hunger Games generation.
You know the story by now: a group of teens form a resistance against a futuristic government that seeks to destroy them. Backstory is vague, there's a star-crossed romance, and at least one of the adult roles is played by a Hollywood A-lister (Mandy Moore, in this case).
Such cookie cutter features could serve as perfect fodder for director Jennifer Yuh Nelson to showcase her visual flare, as Ava DuVernay did with A Wrinkle in Time, but the script from Chad Hodge leaves little room for world-building. After a mysterious disease kills 90% of all children, those who survive find themselves with powerful new abilities. They're then separated into colour-coded categories based on their ability, as well as on the 'danger' they pose. Those in Green, Blue and Gold are kept in internment camps, while those in Red and Orange are killed on sight.
Our hero, Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) is, of course, an Orange. Her ability is mind control, allowing her to keep hidden for several years before making her escape with the help of a rebel doctor (Moore). But adults are hard to trust nowadays. After coming across a trio of fellow psionic runaways - Liam, a Blue; Chubs, a Green; and Zu, a Gold - Ruby instead joins them in search of a possible safe haven.
Abrupt tonal shifts and endless exposition make it difficult to form any real emotional connection to our rag tag heroes. They exist solely to fulfil the criteria we've come to expect from the genre (the reluctant hero, the comic relief, the absent parents, the perfect love interest). At one point Liam compares their haven to "Hogwarts" as a Jamie xx song plays on nearby speakers. Cue the pair of them slow dancing underneath the disco lights. There's no confusion on the target audience. Rather than taking advantage of this, the film opts to pander and play it safe, leaving nothing significant for its adolescent market to chew on.
This would all be fine if there was any sense of escapism, but the camerawork has all the excitement of a car advert, complete with an indie pop soundtrack. Nelson is better known for her work within animation, having directed both the Kung Fu Panda sequels. She's proven her capability for helming fun, action-packed projects worthy of a franchise. Unfortunately that hasn't quite translated here.
Stenberg has reliable presence, but it's not enough to give the film the impact it craves. Despite being privy to all her inner monologues, we get no solid sense of who Ruby is as a person outside of her role within the story. More concern is shown for the ham-fisted romance between her and Liam, the latter of whom regularly likes to hit home about their new found family. But when you think of found families fighting together you think of the X-Men, the Guardians or the Scooby gang in Buffy. It can't be manufactured from recycled cliches. It has to be earned.
The Darkest Minds is out now, distributed by 20th Century Fox.