A plague has swept through the world’s children, killing 90 percent. The remaining 10 percent survive but are changed: They have gained powers. They are classified by color. Greens have enhanced intelligence. Blues are telekinetic. Yellows can manipulate electricity. Oranges are telepathic and can manipulate others. Reds are the most dangerous as they can manipulate and create fire. One of the children affected by this disease is Ruby (Amandla Stenberg). At the age of 10 her powers manifested leading her to accidently wipe her parents’ minds of her existence. They don’t know who she is and call the authorities. Ruby is held along with other children in a prison camp. An examination determines which kind of power each child possesses. Oranges and reds are to be terminated immediately. Ruby is an orange but touches the doctor’s arm as he is about to administer a lethal injection and causes him to classify her as a green. After six years suspicions are increasing that Ruby is not a green. When bombarded by subsonic sound, Ruby passes out, a sign she is not a green. She awakes in the camp hospital being treated by Dr. Cate Connor (Mandy Moore). Cate breaks Ruby out of the camp and tells her she is part of a resistance group called The Brotherhood. Cate and Ruby meet up with Cate’s partner, Rob Meadows (Mark O’Brien). When Ruby touches Rob she sees a memory where he abuses a child in a camp. Ruby runs away and stumbles onto a different group of children: Zu (Miya Cech), a yellow, Chubs (Skylan Brooks), real name Charles, a green, and Liam (Harris Dickinson), a blue. Ruby convinces the trio to take her along in their van. They are chased by Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie), a cruel and violent bounty hunter. Liam has heard of a refuge for children run by an escape artist called the Slip. If they can avoid the bounty hunters and the government, maybe they can find a peaceful and safe home amongst their own kind and Liam and Ruby may be able to explore their budding romance.
Despite its resemblance to Marvel’s X-Men, “The Darkest Minds,” based on a book series of the same name, offers the basis for an interesting look at discrimination and bigotry. While I haven’t read the source material, this adaption of the first book in the series doesn’t make me want to find out more about the characters and the situation. The movie has several logical flaws and a ham-fisted romance, making the film a nearly unwatchable mess.
The most glaring problem with the film is an enormous number of common sense mistakes in creating the world. Most of the world’s children are dead and the rest are in prison camps. Are the adults in this world having more children? That’s never discussed. Did the world’s parents give up their surviving children willingly? That’s never discussed. We are told the economy collapsed after the children died but not told why. Ruby, Liam, Chubs and Zu travel around in a very conspicuous van with writing on it that’s been seen by Lady Jane, but they don’t seem in any great hurry to dump the van. They spend the night in a hotel, meaning they had to pay at the office. Since all the adults seem to be afraid of young people why didn’t the clerk call the cops? A closed and abandoned shopping mall still has a fair amount of merchandise inside it. The kids park in front of the mall to gather supplies. A van in an empty mall parking lot sticks out like a sore thumb and would attract attention, yet it doesn’t. There are numerous other questionable choices made by screenwriter Chad Hodge that made me wonder if there shouldn’t be a committee that reads through scripts to point out aspects that don’t make sense. As hard as it is to get a movie made you’d think someone would have asked a question or two.
The romance between Ruby and Liam is a bit embarrassing to watch. He’s a warrior that’s reduced to an awkward puppy dog in her presence and she’s been locked up for six years from age ten to 16 with no concept of romantic love. Together they make a cute but clumsy couple as their life on the run and her abilities get in the way. The writing for the romance sections of the film is all long pauses, furtive glances and aborted kisses. It’s every cliché of young love in every movie ever made.
There are a couple of things about “The Darkest Minds” I did like. First, the action scenes make a certain amount of sense. The abilities of the kids and how they employ them all fit within the storyline. There are times when the powers of one kid seem to blossom just as the story deems it necessary. While that’s a sign of weak writing it isn’t the biggest flaw in the film.
Second, actor Amandla Stenberg is very good. Stenberg’s Ruby is an emotionally damaged young woman whose mistake as a child put her on this path. She wants things to go back to the way they were but knows that can never happen and builds a family with her travelling companions. She deserved a better written script to allow her talents to shine.
“The Darkest Minds” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images and violence. Early in the film we see a young girl die suddenly from the plague. There are numerous beatings by adults of children throughout the film. A couple of people commit suicide when their minds are taken over by a child with telepathic powers. A plane crash is caused by a telepath. One young man is surrounded by doctors with syringes as they try to “cure” him of his abilities. The implication being he is tortured. A sexual assault nearly occurs because a telepath takes over a young woman’s mind. Foul language is mild and infrequent.
There are so many issues with “The Darkest Minds” I’m surprised it got released in the middle of summer. Perhaps 20th Century Fox believed it had potential to find an audience in a summer of superhero flicks and thought the audience wouldn’t care it wasn’t very good. It’s more likely the studio knew it would bomb and released it to get out of their obligation with the production company. Whatever the reason, the story of a superpowered young woman and her superpowered teenaged friends roaming the countryside looking for a new home is out in the world. If you watch it you might find things to enjoy about it but there isn’t enough of good quality to make it an entertaining whole.
“The Darkest Minds” gets two stars out of five.
Next week I’ll see and review one of the following:
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