It seemed like only yesterday that we all agreed to bury the concept of the teenage dystopia trilogy of films based on YA novels along with the last Divergent movie that we're never going to see. And yet, here we are. The Darkest Minds is based on the novel of the same name, and it hopes to be the first in a series that follows a group of kids fighting for survival in a world that is falling apart. While the premise has been done before, and done better, it must be said its also been done a hell of a lot worse.
Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is a ten-year-old girl growing up in a world where children are dying. A mysterious illness eventually takes 90% of the children in the (world? country? I don't believe they specify) and while Ruby survives, it's not initially clear why. The first indication comes when Ruby's eyes glow orange one night when she takes her parents by the hand. The next morning, neither remembers who she is. It turns out all the remaining children are now exhibiting various kinds of powers, resulting in them all being shipped off to concentration camps because they're dangerous. Ruby, we come to learn, has mind control abilities and is one of the more powerful children still alive, which makes her both valuable and extremely dangerous.
Eventually, a now 16-year-old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) finds herself free of the camp and traveling with three other orphaned and super-powered teens: intelligent "Chubbs" (Skylan Brooks); apparently mute but electrically charged Zu (Miya Cech); and telekinetic Liam (Harris Dickenson), with whom Ruby begins a budding YA appropriate romance.
The biggest issue with The Darkest Minds is one that is often difficult for any book-to-movie adaptation to deal with, the need to relay a novel's worth of information in an hour and 45-minute movie. We get massive expository info dumps from side characters in order to explain things the movie doesn't have the runtime to go into more organically. Ruby goes from having no understanding of what has happened to her in one scene to actively and aggressively using her ability in the next. In the novel, by Alexandra Bracken, I'm going to hope there was at least a chapter in between these moments where Ruby came to terms with who she was and what she could do, but the movie has no time for that. Later, the film teases the seemingly required love triangle between Ruby, Liam, and another character, but that's over almost as soon as it gets started. Maybe it was given more time in the book, though considering how done to death the trope is, maybe this was a good call.
The plot of The Darkest Minds is by the numbers and if you've seen even one of the films in this genre you will not need to have read the book to know where the story is going, which good guys aren't actually good guys, and what the big "twist" will be. Having said that, our quartet of young actors do an admirable job with the predictable story. There's a natural chemistry between all of our heroes that makes it easy to follow them on this adventure. Amandla Stenberg is a strong lead, though the romantic relationship between Ruby and Liam (Harris Dickinson) is never able to spark in quite the way it wants to, and needs to by the end. The rest of the supporting cast is fairly impressive. If I told you that Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore, and Gwendoline Christie were all in The Darkest Minds, you'd probably be impressed. If I told you the three of them might combine for a total of 10 minutes of screen time, you'll probably be less impressed.
One thing that does work well is the action. When super-powered teens go head-to-head, it's as fun as any other summer action movie, and while The Darkest Minds clearly doesn't have the budget of your average blockbuster, it makes due with what it has, and puts together a solid, if brief, finale.
The Darkest Minds leaves a lot of unanswered questions in the end, by design of course, as it wants to be the first film in a series. Unfortunately, it seems highly unlikely that will happen. If we hadn't already been down this road so many times there might be more fun to be had with The Darkest Minds, but being a better than average attempt at an overtired genre likely won't be enough to complete the story this movie starts.