The Darkest Minds sets the bar on dystopian teenager-killing movies even lower

By Jim Slotek

Rating: D

At its best, the first-thing-we-do-in-a-dystopian-world-is-kill-teenagers genre (The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner franchises) wasn’t a shining moment in filmmaking, nor in narrative logic.

But now that genetic drift has set in, it’s dead-genre-walking, with the dull and derivative The Darkest Minds as Exhibit A.

Taken, as they must all be, from a Young Adult novel (in this case by Alexandra Bracken), The Darkest Minds (In about a minute of narration and montage) introduces us to a near-future where a virus has killed 90% of all the children on the planet. Making things worse, the ones who survive have super powers, making them feared and systematically jailed and/or liquidated.

 Mandy Moore is set to bust Amandla Stenberg out of a prison for superkids in The Darkest Minds

Mandy Moore is set to bust Amandla Stenberg out of a prison for superkids in The Darkest Minds

No attempt is made to explain the logic behind killing the last few offspring you have left. It’s kind of like if, in Children of Men, the adults said, “Good riddance!” to no more children.

For whatever reason, the super-powered survivors have abilities that have been color-coded. Greens (super smart), Blues (psychokinetics), Yellows (lightning throwers), Oranges and Reds (the latter two being targeted for immediate death whenever discovered). Oranges wield mind-control. And red, well, you find out about them in the last act.

By the way, do not make a drinking game out of all the times word “orange” is uttered.

Who the bad guys are is up for grabs. Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) is a secret Orange in a prison-for-kids who is freed by some sort of paramilitary freedom fighter posing as a doctor (Mandy Moore, whose entire contribution comes at the beginning and end of the movie). But Ruby is immediately rescued from them by a foursome of super-powered teens in a mini-van who become her new family.

Liam (Harris Dickinson), her cutesy love interest has psychokinetic powers. Zu (Miya Cech) is a little girl who can harness electricity and Chubs (Skylan Brooks) is one of those genius Greens.

Together they go looking for a commune of super-kids run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson) who’s the Orange son of the president (Bradley Whitford), and who seems as if he’s taken “rich, snide kid” lessons from '80s era James Spader.

If any of this sounds entertaining, perish the thought. Under the directorial reins of Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Pandas 2 and 3), most of The Darkest Minds is a road movie, with but one major action scene to speak of. Stenberg and Dickerson are an engaging enough teen couple, good enough for, say, a cable TV remake of The Fault In Our Stars. But that isn’t enough to float a wannabe franchise.

With the apparent effects budget of a Syfy/Space TV movie, the movie’s characters generally exhibit their super-powers by having their contact lenses brighten. The exception is Liam, who gestures like a magician to make things move. It’s talky, full of expositional dialogue and awkwardly placed bits of narration.

It’s hard to imagine The Darkest Minds becoming the franchise it was intended to be. The plot is murky confusing and unengaging, and the entire genre may just be worn out by now.

Orange you glad if it is?