Plot: A mysterious epidemic has spread across the entire world, an illness that claims nearly the entire planet’s population of children and those who survive, simply aren’t the same. The survivors begin to show signs of dormant abilities and powers, from psychic energies to control over electric elements and beyond, some even display the kind of power that could decimate what remains of mankind. This leads to a total quarantine of the children that survived, a process that isolates and evaluates the young people, then divides them by level of inherent power. Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is marked as one of the more dangerous types, but she uses her mental abilities to shield her true power and remain as a low priority prisoner. A doctor on the inside knows the truth however and even helps Ruby to escape, but can she find a way to remain free and perhaps even fight back against the oppressive system?
Entertainment Value: The Darkest Minds is based on a popular young adult book series, but this movie suffers from coming so late in the dystopian youth cycle of this period, so it all feels rather “been there, done that” in most scenes. The addition of superpowers helps it feel a little fresh, but it most comes across like also ran and lacks the kind of depth such a serious approach requires. The movie has some bursts of humor, but tries to convey a dark, serious tone overall and it just doesn’t work, the writing and cast aren’t up to snuff to pull that off. The lighter moments are the best parts of The Darkest Minds, but they’re infrequent and when the material leans toward serious elements, it is almost laughable. There’s a certain forced presence to the more serious scenes, as if the movie is trying to prove young adult can be taken seriously, but given the genre’s success, that is well established. The action scenes are repetitive, thanks to a limited range of abilities and some miserable CGI that looks like a mediocre video game, rather than a well funded motion picture. I like the premise of superpowers in a dark, dystopian world, but The Darkest Minds falls flat across the board.
The cast here makes a valiant effort to get the material to come off as seriously as it would like, but it is a futile campaign. The writing is middle of the road at best and often dips into forced, even pretentious realms at times, as if the writers have a chip on their shoulder about the material. I found the movie nearly impossible to take seriously, mostly due to the script, but the cast is also not really up to the task of the serious tone and that doesn’t help. Bradley Whitford provides the strongest performance and he has a small role, so even though a competent villain is a plus, he doesn’t have enough screen time to really shine here. Amandla Stenberg is fine in the lead role, but lacks the chops or experience to carry this mediocre material, let alone elevate it to where it needs to be to take it seriously. This isn’t a knock on Stenberg, she has charm and is good in the movie’s lighter moments, but she struggles with even basic dramatic scenes. The cast also includes Mandy Moore, Wade Williams, Gwendoline Christie, Harris Dickinson, and Miya Cech.