The Darkest Minds is another Young Adult late summer studio programmer. Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s first live-action film offers strong characters, but we’ve seen this type of story before leading to a feeling of déjà vu.
William Wisher and James Cameron famously gave John Connor a line in Terminator 2 that speaks to humanity’s unknowable future: “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” To that end, Hollywood paints the future within the confines of dystopia where the meek suffer, the powerful become more so and a band of miscreants rises above to save the world.
The trope has been recycled countless times and each generation that is exposed latches on. The latest entry, Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s (Kung Fu Panda 2) The Darkest Minds hits theaters this weekend.
Nelson explores a future where a large swath of children under the age of twenty are killed by a pandemic. Those children who survived are placed in to internment camps and are labeled a threat to society. A small band of these youngsters break out, seeking answers. Chad Hodge (Wayward Pines) adapted the screenplay from Alexandra Bracken’s novel of the same name.
Ruby Daly, played by Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, Everything, Everything) represents everything that society today craves: she is strong, intelligent, she wears her heart on her sleeve; she is a natural leader, but she remains skeptical of those in charge. This is the film’s single greatest attribute. Nelson directs Stenberg with an efficiency that I haven’t seen in a while. What makes the character work here is that she does not upstage any of the other characters and it is because she is unsure of her own abilities, making the character humble.
Helping her escape from the internment camp is Mandy Moore’s Dr. Cate Connor. Her role is nothing more than a glorified cameo, but we don’t mind it. Her presence is just enough to get Ruby on her way. Harris Dickinson, Skyland Brooks and Miya Cech all round out Ruby’s small band. Dickinson plays Liam, a love interest for Ruby, though they are very good at playing hard to get throughout the story. Brooks plays Chubs, who is as witty as he is smart. Cech plays Zu a mute, but don’t let that fool you.
Gwendoline Christie takes off her Captain Phasma mask for bounty hunter, Lady Jane. She is ruthless and relentless, a nice undertone representing the danger surrounding our teens though her screen time is short.
The kids are searching for a safe haven for their kind, which they eventually find. The camp is an idyllic Eden, the type that permeated television shows of the 1960’s and 1970’s where people who feared or were a threat to the government would hold up. We meet Patrick Gibson’s Clancy Gray here, who takes a special interest in Ruby, though I think his character and performance were the weakest links in this film.
The Darkest Minds is Nelson’s first live-action film, so there is an animation – style economy about her direction. She understands her characters and their function. She is adept as staging the action scenes, though they do get to feel a bit clinical after a while.
Hodge’s script takes the time to explore the various levels of the kid’s superpowers and within that, this story is that it does feel self – contained. It also telegraphs “sequel.” The 105 – minute run time is actually a bit too short. There was room to build a bit more in to this story though I think the push was to frame our characters in the best possible way without getting too far into the next books.
The Darkest Minds plays well in its sandbox, almost too well. It is a late summer studio programmer which will attract those who still have not returned to school. The performances are strong for the most part and it fits the mold that modern audiences are looking for thanks to Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s economy behind the camera. We’ve seen these types of stories before and The Darkest Minds doesn’t really expand on what’s come before it, leading to a case of déjà vu.
Now in theaters, The Darkest Minds is rated PG-13 by the MPAA.