We can only assume that Hollywood was in a desperate search for the next great YA adaptation that would bring them that hefty “Hunger Games” money. That’s the only explanation on why the underdeveloped adaptation of “The Darkest Minds” is as lazy as it is presented. While we can applaud 20th Century Fox for putting someone as talented as Amandla Stenberg in the lead role as Ruby (which she rips to shreds when she’s not being bogged down by the script), we can’t ignore the sluggish, lethargic execution of this X-Men wannabe franchise.
“The Darkest Minds,” based on the novel by Alexandra Bracken, tells the story of a world in which we are imprisoning everyone under 18 because of fear of their possible supernatural abilities. The story follows a group of teens that form a resistance group to fight back and reclaim control of their future.
Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who helmed two of the “Kung Fu Panda” sequels before this, takes on her first live-action feature. While she leads with a sensitive hand, she’s held back by a cheap, fraudulent take on a teen love story. The movie speeds through character introductions, not allowing any time for us to care about these people or their problems. When we make it to the “love story” portion of it, it’s so clumsily manipulative; it has no opportunity to rise above its melodramatic clichés.
Bland and sentimental, Chad Hodge‘s adaptation provides no elevation in its structure. Worse yet, the technical team that’s assembled all seems to be on different pages. Benjamin Wallfisch, the brilliant composer behind “Blade Runner 2049,” overreaches all his emotional moments. Maryann Brandon and Dean Zimmerman, two editors that have had a hand in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” can’t make the viewer care enough about what’s going on, and makes it feel much longer than necessary.
With a cast that includes Mandy Moore, Bradley Whitford, and Gwendoline Christie, you’d think there would be much more to grab onto. Unfortunately, we spend too much time with Harris Dickinson, who comes off like a poor man’s Ansel Elgort. There is a highlight in Skylan Brooks who gets some chuckles as the sarcastic and lovable Chubs.
With an ending unearned, and one that you see coming from a mile away, the filmmakers would love to throw tear gas at the audience to fester up a reaction. Alas, they fail. There’s nothing about the film that isn’t dismissive of its viewers or creates a difficult story that becomes hard to enjoy.
As a glorified simplification of teenagers creating a world for themselves, the unashamed sappy-fest will be held together by spending this time with Stenberg, who is a talent you want to see more of. As beautiful as she is gifted, she’s not a miracle worker to save this trainwreck.
With all this said, a franchise could be heightened with more time spent on its story and characters. Like watching a friend get married who you know has been cheating on their spouse for years, you’ll attend the event, hope for the best, and just try your very best not to snicker at every turn. From the producers of “Stranger Things” and “Arrival,” this ain’t any of those.
“The Darkest Minds” is distributed by 20th Century Fox and opens in theaters on Aug. 3.