In the first 10 minutes of The Darkest Minds, Chad Hodge’s inane script thinks it’s necessary to spoon-feed the audience with every available form of exposition. We get a voiceover explaining that children who survived a deadly plague developed special abilities and are sorted into camps, a newsreel montage explaining that children who survived a deadly plague developed special abilities and are sorted into camps, and a doctor who explains that children who survived a deadly plague developed special abilities and are sorted into camps. The doctor has a chart.
Needless to say, The Darkest Minds is adapted from a young adult novel, the first of a series by Alexandra Bracken. Our protagonist is Ruby Daly, dutifully portrayed by The Hunger Games’s Amandla Stenberg, who is sent to the child cages (what coincidental timing on this little tidbit) where she learns she is a very rare “Orange.” Because she is so Special, and so dangerous, the Government is going to kill her, but Ruby is rescued by a kind doctor (Mandy Moore) and escapes to go on the run with a group of trope archetypes.
The plot elements, particularly in the first half of the film, just keep piling up — a hat placed on top of a hat placed on top of a hat. First, we meet Ruby at home with her parents, then we see her taken to a camp, then we see her escape, then we see her escape again. It’s a disorienting, treadmill pace indicative of the worst sort of book adaptation, one in which the filmmakers feel as though there are certain plot elements they’re obligated to churn through, without centering on the core of the story. The movie is a McMansion built on a sand foundation.
While Ruby bonds with her fellow full-house of super-powered, color-coordinated teens (an Orange, a Blue, a Green, and a Yellow), they attempt to find their way to a compound where — rumor has it — kids can live free, while avoiding Tracers, a.k.a. bounty hunters (although why they can’t just call them bounty hunters is beyond me). Right on schedule, a love-triangle develops between Ruby and Liam (Harris Dickinson) and the President’s son, Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), whose malevolence is so obviously telegraphed by his frat boy wardrobe and being named “Clancy” that revealing his true nature is less of a spoiler and more of a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, we know Liam is our romantic hero, because he is the tallest.
There is no resolution for any of the story lines haphazardly dangling like electrical wires. The central villain is not defeated, main plot points are not untangled. When the credits roll, there has been no catharsis for the 90 minutes of movie preceding it, which makes it all feel like a protracted introductory sequence for a sequel that, god willing, will never come.
At times, the dialogue is so generic and characters so two-dimensional it feels as though this film has contempt for its audiences. Product placement means we get several beauty shots of the children’s van’s Nissan logo, as tender and lingering as anything that transpires between the young lovers. At one point, a line of dialogue includes the phrase, “Nissan mini-van,” which is likely to elicit a scoff of laughter in a theater near you. If you were wondering why Moore’s character might go to so much trouble to save a child she only just met, wonder not. “You remind me of a girl I knew. I couldn’t help her then,” she reminisces wistfully. Nothing more is said of that girl. Plot holes wide enough to drive a Nissan mini-van through are stitched together with
Oral-B dental floss.
What we’re left with is a Mad-Libs version of a dystopian YA adaptation done by someone who saw half of an X-Men movie on TV once, with no depth, no new ideas, and no point. D+