Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring – Amandla Stenberg, Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore
The Plot – When teens mysteriously develop powerful new abilities, they are declared a threat by the government and detained. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Stenberg), one of the most powerful young people anyone has encountered, escapes her camp and joins a group of runaway teens seeking safe haven. Soon this newfound family realizes that, in a world in which the adults in power have betrayed them, running is not enough and they must wage a resistance, using their collective power to take back control of their future.
Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements
– Stenberg is leaps-and-bounds above the material she is given to work with. As a star in ‘The Hunger Games’, Amandla is no stranger to Young Adult adaptations, so in being a veteran she knows how to bring a combination of likeable personality and feminine strength in her role as Ruby. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and I appreciate an actress who takes command and keeps the attention on her throughout. I can’t wait till the day Stenberg is old enough or successful enough to pass on scripts like this, but for now we can adore a rising star who adds a presence of range to the forefront.
– There is a real hearty third act scene, part in thanks to the two leads, that really reached hard for the heartstrings of the audience. This scene involving memory erasing was among my very favorite for the movie, and proved that it did earn the depth needed to send this film out on a positive note. Part of this relies on sacrifice for Ruby, in that she must give up everything she has come to know to fight the greater good. It finishes the first (And likely only) installment of this franchise on a somber epilogue that really makes you feel for her jaded disposition.
– As a first time director, Nelson is someone who definitely proves that she deserves another chance, next time with a property that doesn’t have so many restrictions. In her competent command, Jennifer not only utilizes Stenberg to a meaty performance, but also establishes the power of adolescents, who together have the capabilities to do anything they want. In this regards, art imitating life is something that our own real world so desperately needs right now, even if our own youths lack the ability to breathe fire from their mouths. Nelson makes this distant future feel somewhat relative by today’s standards, and that alone establishes her guided presence behind the lens.
– Law of diminishing returns. Ever since ‘The Hunger Games’ became a rousing success at the box office, Young Adult adaptations have been all the rage. Unfortunately, each of them have decreased in quality ever since, and ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a victim of this problem. Despite the fact that this film could easily qualify as a sequel for ‘The 5th Wave’, or television knock-off of ‘Divergent’ or an ‘X-Men’ side story of sorts, there’s nothing about this movie that stands out as remotely poignant in substance, nor terribly original in story outline. Love triangle? CHECK, Evil Grown-ups? CHECK, Slave camps? CHECK. Interchangeably fault.
– For those who didn’t comprehend or forgot about the many meanings of ranks of the teens in ‘Divergent’, this movie dumbs it down using colors to determine who is the most powerful. The orange and reds are the worst (Because ya know, danger), and the Green’s (Intelligence) represent the lowest on the totem pole. If this wasn’t enough, the film never allows you to forget each person’s rank for a single second, beating us over the head with colors in character’s eyes throughout the film to remind us of what is otherwise easily forgettable. They know it and now so do we.
– Once you understand the rules of Ruby’s powers and what she can do, there is absolutely no tension or suspense left in the many conflicts she comes across. This character is essentially God, so what is there that regular human beings can do to stop her? Even worse, it brings to light some of the inconsistencies that the film portrays. Ruby can read the minds of character’s pasts when she touches them, but why not during the scenes when she holds hands with a character or when she’s dancing with them? Ruby can move trains and bend titanium, so why can’t she unlock a van door? Ruby erases her parents memory of her, but how can she do this when she never touched her father? Does this include pictures, videos, and keepsakes?
– This is a post-apocalyptic movie of sorts, but the small scale always kept this from immersing me in this kind of environment. There’s one big budget set piece throughout the film, but otherwise most of the set designs and backdrops feel infantile when compared to their counterparts. In other YA adaptations, we see visual examples of deteriorating landscapes or something that commutes how far the cancer has spread, but with ‘The Darkest Minds’ there’s nothing to challenge the thought that this isn’t a society in any sort of immediate danger, instead carving out an ‘Us versus Them’ focus towards the evil government. Yawn.
– Choppy action sequences. When you are fortunate enough to get an action scene, the editing feels far too intrusive with far too many cuts to ever properly digest what is taking place. Two character suicides aren’t shown all together, but a chase sequence involving a falling tree is completely wiped away with an overzealous editor who instead prides angles over impact.
– Lack of overall resolution. It’s obvious that any movie these days fishes itself for a sequel, but I couldn’t escape this lack of satisfaction for a third act that is basically inconsequential, despite having no shortage of minutes donated to it. There are essentially two different endings in the movie, and the one that was more satisfying to me revolved around the love story that I referred to in my positives. For the conflict itself, it comes and goes like the wind, leaving about as much of an impact as a breezy cloudless day. If honesty serves ambition, a sequel will never see the light of day, leaving many unanswered questions for die-hard fans of the book, who deserve better.
– Too clean to a fault. Considering the novel is filled with lots of language and teenage personality to humor its audience, it feels like the movie isn’t being faithful in how it adapts the finer points of why people found these characters fascinating in the first place. There is a need for studios to market a film a certain way, but without the edginess in experimentation, that could’ve saved this film for better or worse, the movie doesn’t feel bold enough to live up to its own marketed age group, therefore it doesn’t feel rooted in the finer points that brought these characters to life in the books.