The Darkest Minds starts off strong with the rapid establishing of its dystopian, X-Men-riffing premise, in which the remaining 2 percent of the children who’ve survived a mysterious epidemic have developed superhuman abilities. These powers lead the frightened government to lock them up in labour camps. There, they are segregated by colour: the greens have an enhanced IQ, the blues have telekinetic abilities, and the golds can manipulate electricity. The reds and oranges are the rarest and most powerful and are to be executed upon chromatic diagnosis. Our heroine Ruby is an orange and, through her developing abilities, manages to escape the camp and meet up with a renegade group of escapees.
So far, so young-adult, but it’s a first act that promises much. Sadly, The Darkest Minds devolves into a rather inert adventure that isn’t as dark as its title suggests. It succumbs all too quickly to tired YA tropes, with the creaky script embracing a coming-of-age story that features a shoehorned romantic subplot, betrayal-most-telegraphed, as well as a third-act establishing of a wider picture, in order to better sequel-bait. It’s not as bad as the hopeless Divergent franchise or the dire The 5th Wave, but it’s not up there with The Hunger Games series, a YA comparison only bolstered by the fact that Ruby is played by the excellent Amandla Stenberg, ie: Rue from the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. This comparison is further invited, this time in a more dubious manner, when the film’s end sequence magpies a familiar set piece and borderline mimics an iconic Hunger Games gesture.
Ultimately, the snag is that despite some decent ideas, Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s film is simply a case of too little too late. The Hollywood craze of adapting YA novels – specifically the dystopian sci-fi sub-genre – has worn itself out, with new attempts to revive the trend usually buried under the weight of too many properties that have saturated a once-promising genre. A few years ago, this adaptation of Jennifer Bracken’s book could have been the start of the next big cinematic franchise; today, it’s an entertaining enough dystopian romp, but no one would blame you for shrugging it off in favour of something more original.
The Darkest Minds | Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (US, 2018), with Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie. Starts August 16.
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