Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Written by: Chad Hodge
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, Harris Dickinson, Patrick Gibson, Skylan Brooks, Miya Cech
Runtime: 104 min
When teens mysteriously develop strong new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), one of the most powerful youngster anyone has confronted, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaways seeking safe haven.
Soon this newfound family realizes that running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.
The YA (Young-Adult) genre is filled with cliche characters and generic stories, so Jennifer Yuh Nelson's The Darkest Minds needed to be something different if it wanted to triumph. While this film does have some good points here and there, the same genre's flaws found in hundreds of other movies are all over the screenplay.
Undoubtedly, the cast is the best thing this film has to offer. Everyone is fantastic which helps Hollywood understand that there are many young actors and actresses ready to show their immense value. Amandla Stenberg (who played the child Rue in The Hunger Games) is phenomenal as Ruby. Her character gets the most development, and she is an exceptionally compelling lead. Amandla perfectly incorporates her role and shares an amazing chemistry with her fellow colleagues.
Skylan Brooks portrays Chubs, and he makes use of his script to elevate his character by using some personal, funny expressions, making him a very likable character. Miya Cech (Zu) does not say a word, but she is as cute as a little girl can be by sharing some adorable moments with Ruby. Harris Dickinson is okay as Liam, but his character is connected to one of my major issues, which (not) surprisingly is familiar to 99% of the genre's movies.
Every YA film needs to have a romance or a love triangle. It seems to be a rule that if someone breaks it, something terrible might happen (like the movie actually being good ... how awful would that be?!). So, naturally, that does not go well. The romance starts by being incredibly forced by joining two characters and instantaneously making them fall in love. Then, it adds another shallow character so a love triangle can happen, and there you go ... Drama! Unoriginal, boring and it does not help an already convoluted screenplay.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson was surely obliged by the production companies to make this a first of many films. Sadly, the intriguing premise suffers from subplots and secondary characters that have nothing to do with the main thread. Characters who are supposed to be a big deal, barely have any screentime but they needed to set up something that might be important ... For the next installments.
This was certainly an issue for the writers because there are tons of inconsistencies with the plot, especially with Ruby's powers. In one scene, she seems to have total control of her skills, but in the next one, she's saying she does not have a clue of how to do it. This happens continuously throughout the movie with other kids too, originating a lot of plot devices and conveniences. When it is needed for them to know and efficiently use their powers, they all know how to do it. There are clear X-Men similarities, and they are all pretty badly explored, besides being extremely unimaginative.
The pacing is also an issue. Since the plot is fairly predictable, the lack of action increases the boredom levels. Finally, when the third act arrives, there are some cool action moments where different characters use their powers. However, those scenes' resolutions are unlikely, and there are incongruities between each character's fate. This could have been a great film but the pressure to make this a saga's origin movie brought it down.
Admittedly, it is a shame because visually The Darkest Minds is very impressive. The cinematography is quite good, and Jennifer uses some beautiful wide shots which allows her to display one of the premise's most interesting traits. The visual effects employed for the powers are surprisingly remarkable for a YA film, and the score is beautiful. It perfectly accompanies Ruby's journey, by elevating both the emotional and action-heavy scenes with some great soundtracks.
With so many generic YA stories out there, Jennifer Yuh Nelson unquestionably had a tough job trying to make The Darkest Minds unique and memorable. Unfortunately, whether by the lack of creativity from the writers or by the production companies' pressure into making this the first of many installments, she is only able to scratch the surface of what could have been a fantastic movie. The amazing cast, led by a rising star like Amandla Stenberg, and their genuine chemistry is not enough to overwhelm a generic story, filled with plot inconsistencies, cliche characters, and tedious pacing. A closing shout-out to the camera work and the technical attributes, which positively saved this film from a worse review.