Here’s a question: Do we really need another dystopian YA movie? After the likes of Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner series, the novelty factor of the once-thriving YA genre has already been long gone. And yet, Hollywood can’t seem to stop churning out more dystopian YA movies on a frequent basis.
Now here comes The Darkest Minds, a teenage dystopian drama based on Alexandra Bracken’s YA novel series of the same name. The story goes like this: a deadly outbreak called Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration a.k.a. IAAN has wiped out 90% of America’s child population. But those who survived the mysterious disease are left with various superpowers, where they are quarantined by the government in a heavily-guarded concentration camp for public safety and research purposes.
One of the survivors is Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), a teenage outcast who possesses a rare mind-control power marked under “Orange”, a colour code that is considered dangerous alongside “Red”. However, the least dangerous colours are designated under “Blue” (telekinesis), “Yellow” (electrokinetic) and “Green” (mental and intellectual powers).
When a kind doctor named Cate (Mandy Moore) helps her escape from the camp, Ruby soon learns that Cate’s subsequent motive is questionable. This eventually leads Ruby to go on the run again and ended up joining three other teenagers who possess different special abilities including Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech).
The Darkest Minds is particularly notable for Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s live-action directorial debut, best known for her last two Kung Fu Panda animated sequels. She does show some potential at the beginning of the movie, as she navigates an exposition-heavy but somehow intriguing prologue summarising the mysterious outbreak that spread the entire nation. She also proves to be an accomplished visual stylist in the action department, as evidently seen during a thrilling car chase on a country road.
But the movie quickly nosedives once Jennifer Yuh Nelson alongside screenwriter Chad Hodge starts piling up with heavy expositions after expositions, which grows increasingly tiresome as it moves along.
Problem is, just about everything here spells “generic” while the story itself fails to accomplish a world-building structure that could have been more interesting if they pay more attention to establish the premise properly. There are many questions that left hanging throughout the movie. Like for example, where does this mysterious IAAN disease originated from?
But since Alexandra Bracken’s YA novel series itself comprises more than one book, the filmmakers might save most of the unanswered questions for subsequent sequels. Or maybe they just plain lazy and looking for narrative shortcuts, possibly aiming to cut down the running time to a manageable 103-minute? Either way, The Darkest Minds came up short.
As for the actors, only Amandla Stenberg made quite an impression playing the sympathetic protagonist, Ruby while the rest of them are basically genre archetypes.
By the time the cliffhanger arrives, complete with an inevitable open ending that leads to more sequels, The Darkest Minds is nothing more than a disposable YA movie that looks more like a failed TV pilot than an accomplished big-screen feature.