After great success helming “Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3”, Jennifer Yuh Nelson gets behind the camera for her fist live-action feature and the results are far from stellar. Based on Alexandra Bracken’s young adult novel of the same name, “The Darkest Minds” plays out like a small budgeted X-Men knock-off or more accurately, like the Fox television series, “The Gifted”.
Set in the near-future, a pandemic called IAAN has taken the lives of 98% of the people under the age of twenty in America. The children and young adults that have survived developed psychic powers. Because all surviving children are now considered a threat by the government, the youngsters are forced to live in prison-like rehabilitation camps. The kids are split into segregated groups by the level of their abilities. Yellow, green and blue are not as dangerous, but if someone has powers that are at the orange or red level, they are marked for termination.
Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) has-the-ability-to control the minds of others, and that makes her a target for termination. Luckily, she is-able-to use her mind control to elude discovery. With the assistance of a mysterious stranger (Mandy Moore), Ruby is-able-to escape the camp, but her distrust of adults causes her flee again. Ruby runs into a group of kids who are also searching for a safe place. There is Liam (Harris Dickinson), a potential love interest for the young hero, his best friend Charles (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech) a young girl who doesn’t speak but has an electrifying presence. The group make their way to an abandoned mall for some quick supply run, but run into another group of powered kids with intel on a camp that is known as a safe place for kids. Once they get to the camp, not everything is as it seems.
The problem with adaptations like “The Darkest Minds” is that most of them don’t leave a lasting impression. They range from poor to average at best in terms of quality. For every “Hunger Games” series, there are about a half-a-dozen failed series starters. Because of this, we get a large-number-of stories that never get a cinematic resolution. Sure, television series get canceled all the time without a final episode, but those viewers aren’t being asked to shell out $11+ see them. I could be wrong, but I don’t see “The Darkest Minds” doing big business at the box office and generating a sequel. Like most of these films, this is just the first part of a larger story and if you are expecting an actual ending here, you won’t get one.
“The Darkest Minds” isn’t bad, but it is mediocre at best. Stenberg is likable here, but the story is paint-by-numbers and completely predictable. Moore’s character plays an important role in the story moving forward, but I just don’t expect that we will ever see more films in the series greenlit, unless I am way off and this becomes a surprise hit. I am not the YA target so the younger audience might dig this one more than I did, but I can’t imagine by much.
By: Marc Ferman