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The Darkest Minds (2018)
Movie Reviews

The Darkest Minds (2018)

A solid, well-made dystopian YA adventure that’s better and more entertaining than most efforts in the genre.

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A bizarre, unexplainable epidemic kills off the majority of the world’s children. Those who survive develop various forms of superpowers that are classified by a color coding system: Greens gain hyper-intelligence, Blues become telekinetic, Yellows can manipulate electrical fields. The top-tiered children – Oranges and Reds – are deemed too powerful and dangerous to be left alive. Oranges can basically Jedi-mind-trick people into doing what they want as well as read thoughts. Reds are a mystery, with only a few left alive to be government secret weapons (I’m not going to tell you what their power is as it’s not revealed until the final battle of the film).

Enter our heroine, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg). She’s an Orange, but once she’s put into a sort of concentration camp for kids, she uses her mind trickery to convince the people in charge she’s a mere Green and should be left alone. One day, six years after being imprisoned, a random testing reveals the truth about her and she’s rescued from certain death by Dr. Cate (Mandy Moore). An accidental use of Ruby’s power reveals that Cate’s cohorts may not have her best interests in mind, so she flees their aid and comes into the fold of our core group of characters – a Green named Chubs (Skylan Brooks), a dreamy Blue named Liam (Harris Dickinson) and a mute young Yellow named Zu (Miya Cech).

Our group of leads quickly find themselves on the run from a bounty hunter named Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie), having a run-in with a group of Blues, and finally finding refuge at a commune run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson) – the only other known Orange and son of the President of the United States (Bradley Whitford). But they soon find that things may not be as they appear…

While I understand the general consensus that YA dystopian stories are quickly forming an over-saturated genre, I believe the in-print hate I’ve been seeing for The Darkest Minds in various media and review sites is largely unwarranted. So while I agree that we’ve maybe seen too many teenage dystopian stories (The Hunger Games, The Divergent series, The Maze Runner series, etc.), I believe we should judge each individual film on its own merits on a case-by-case basis. After all, I don’t hate all quirky teen comedies just because I thought Napoleon Dynamite was stupid.

That being said, I thought The Darkest Minds was a well put together movie and I had a great time watching it. I haven’t read the novelized trilogy the film is based on, so I can’t speak to its faithfulness to the source material… but I think that screenwriter Chad Hodge (from TV shows Wayward Pines and Good Behavior) did a great job creating a story filled with both action and heart, while accidentally writing a movie that resonates strongly with the times.

Storyboard artist turn director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3) also did a great job in her live-action feature debut. I think she did a great job with the young actors to pull the most emotion, and created tense and thrilling moments that live up to other stars of the over-saturated genre. Personally, I liked The Darkest Minds better than the final installments of The Hunger Games, and any of the Divergent movies. Yes, I realize that’s exactly a high bar, but at least it’s something!

The entire youthful cast did wonderful jobs. It’s often hard to find child and teen actors who don’t come across as over-the-top like they’re in a high school musical, but everyone in this movie gave realistic performances that were both subtle an emotionally gripping.

The Darkest Minds isn’t perfect, of course, and there were a few logic problems that made parts of the story feel forced; personally I hated the reveal of the Reds’ powers (the power I had in mind would have been way cooler). But overall this was a strong film that brought enough emotion and intense action to provide me with an enjoyable viewing experience. I’m interested in seeing what they’ll do in the sequel, but considering the genre seems to be on the decline I doubt I’ll get to find out. Guess I’d better hit up my local library to read the books!

About the Author: Travis Seppala