The once massively popular dystopian young adult genre seemed like it has reached the end of its shelf life, with the Maze Runner franchise wrapping up with this year’s The Death Cure, and the Divergent series’ final instalment up in the air. But 20th Century Fox attempts to reverse that trend with The Darkest Minds.
Based on Alexandra Bracken’s novel of the same name, the movie is set in a world where 90% of kids were wiped out by a highly contagious disease. The surviving kids then develop extraordinary abilities, which lead the government to round up all survivors and place them in camps to “reform” them. They are then grouped into different groups using colours according to their abilities: greens, blues, and golds are kept in the camps until they are reformed, reds and oranges are killed.
Our main character, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), is an orange, the most powerful and dangerous of all the surviving kids, and one of very few to exist, and even fewer remaining. Yep, that’s right, she’s basically another YA lead of the Chosen One trope. The movie does address this by comparing her to Harry Potter, literally the Chosen One of his story, but this doesn’t absolve the film of its biggest sin: its sheer lack of originality.
The movie follows all the YA tropes it can get its hands on. Does our main character meet an attractive person of the opposite sex with a similar condition? Yes. Do they immediately fall for one another for no discernible reason? Yep. Does a love triangle form, or at least one of them becomes irrationally jealous over a simple misunderstanding? Oh yeah. Is there an oppressive and/or totalitarian government coming after people like our main character, but especially her? Yes, there is. Is there an organised resistance planning to fight back against this evil government, one that views the lead character as a valuable asset? You bet there is. Does it cast an awesome actor to play a thankless role that even they can’t elevate? Gwendoline Christie’s part in this makes for a big fat yes. I didn’t think it was possible to make Gwendoline Christie uncool, but The Darkest Minds finds a way.
And when it’s not following the YA formula to the letter, it’s ripping off X-Men. A group of teenagers that develop special abilities that lead to their marginalization from the public is the very concept of X-Men, and this film even attempts to address the same social issues that X-Men does. Except this film does it in a more ham-fisted way (grouped by colours, get it?), and at one point in the movie it forgets its message in order to take the story in a different direction.
It’s even worse (and funnier, I guess) that this film is produced by Fox, the studio that owns the rights to the X-Men. If they wanted to make an X-Men story, they could’ve just made X-Men. Like they’ve been doing for 18 years and are still doing now. What they’ve done here is invest into a new IP to tell the same message, only less competently.
The writing is a big weak point. Characters often say one thing, before immediately contradicting themselves in the same team. Two characters will engage in an argument, but it’s plainly obvious that the film wants one character to be right, but can’t come up with a reasonable argument for them that makes sense. The film also has the single worst villain reveal I’ve ever seen. A character, with no prior indication of being a baddie, is shown exchanging text messages with an antagonistic character from earlier in the film. That’s it. No build up, no tension, texts. A twist for the ages — Shyamalan, eat your heart out.
And lastly, there’s the story itself. This film is based on the first book of a five-book series, and it very much feels like the very start of a longer story, as opposed to a story in and of itself. There is no beginning-middle-end to be found here, just a beginning and some middle, to be continued in the next instalment. Provided it makes enough money to warrant one. But with its disappointing results at the box office, it’s safe to say this will in fact be the end of the story. Although, if this film is any indication, that’s probably for the best.
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