Hollywood has attempted to recreate the success of “The Hunger Games” series in the years since with a spate of dystopian young adult novel adaptations (like “Maze Runner” and “Divergent”) that fail to meet the standard of their predecessor - and that’s not saying much. “The Hunger Games” was not exactly a flawless masterpiece.
“The Darkest Minds” suffers from the same tired tropes of the overcrowded genre without adding anything exceptional worth recommending. The story follows Ruby (Amandla Stenberg, who was also featured in “The Hunger Games”), a young girl who survived a pandemic that wiped out 90 percent of the world’s population of children. The children who survived have all developed a certain level of superpower, ranging from relatively benign “greens,” who have high intelligence, to the most dangerous of all, the “oranges,” who have powers of mind control. Ruby is one of the rare oranges who was not euthanized by the government. The remaining children have all been sent to concentration-like camps.
This premise is tenuous at best. Some, if not most, films are allowed to have a certain number of plot holes, particularly action flicks like “Fast and the Furious” or superhero films, because there is a common understanding that these movies are supposed to be over the top. “The Darkest Minds,” however, suffers from so many plot holes that the story is frustratingly unbelievable. If Ruby has mind control powers, why didn’t she use these powers to get herself out of camp? Why is there a camp in the first place - have all of America’s parents ceded every single child to the government’s control with absolutely no resistance? Most of rural and suburban America has been abandoned because of a lack of children, but are we expected to believe that entire towns full of working adults have no law and order simply because children aren’t present? Ruby presents herself as unable to control her powers in one scene but is able to perform complex operations with them in the next. I cannot divulge more due to the spoilers, but half the tasks the protagonists put themselves through are entirely unnecessary.
The hallmark of a well-constructed young adult story is the ability to portray coming-of-age in a way that introduces younger audiences to more mature themes. The most frustrating aspect of all these more recent adaptations is that they fall utterly flat in this regard and insult the intelligence of the audience. When Katniss of “The Hunger Games” stood in front of a collapsed building that said “justice” across the top, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Teenagers may be young, but they are not so stupid that they need such a ham-handed metaphor to understand that governments are corrupt and often justice does not prevail.
“The Darkest Minds” does not fare any better. In fact, it is much worse. We are presented with attempts to discuss racism, but in a way that is not remotely thought-provoking. The children are all divided into different colors, and the number of conversations about “not separating by color” are head-desk inducing. If better executed, this story might have made some sort of effective political point about the recent forcing of Hispanic immigrant children into camps, but this was not the case. Everything is color-coded as if the audience will somehow forget what superpower the yellow girl has if she doesn’t wear yellow gloves all the time.
The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the character development, outside of Ruby, is poor. It seems that the black and humorous sidekick has become a stereotype in the field of young adult adaptations (Grover from “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” comes to mind), but this sidekick isn’t remotely funny. He is also supposed to display “hyper intelligence” because of his “green” status - but his displays of intelligence are done through professing knowledge of Greek and Sanskrit rather than making actual intelligent choices. This is one of my largest pet peeves in storytelling: intelligence being described rather than demonstrated (Bella Swan professing a love of literature comes to mind).
Almost all the major “twists” are predictable from a mile away. In the end, the only redeeming aspect of the story is the somewhat compelling final scene, which concludes the story’s romantic line, but I’m not sure it’s worth sitting through one and a half hours to get to this point. I had hopeful expectations of this film since it was made by the same creators as “Stranger Things,” but in the end, the source material was far too weak to ever make a movie worth watching.