‘THE DARKEST MINDS’ is a YA film adaptation based on the series of novels from Alexandra Bracken. This story is set in a yet another near-future, dystopian landscape. This being one that finds kids under the age of eighteen being feared by adults and thus sent to prison camps. This is because kids have abilities of varying degrees that are categorized by the color their eyes light up when they display those powers.
Now as you can clearly see I am not a young-adult and this film is not targeted to my demographic. I still however went into this one with very little expectations, but a very open mind. I can honestly say the first 30-40 minutes were surprisingly engaging with some intriguing elements introduced. It was formulaic from the jump, but it was woven with enough unique dynamics to peak my curiosity.
The performances from the younger cast were all relatively solid. They were able to pump some energy and emotion into their roles and it created a group of characters that felt genuine enough, despite some of the routinely campy dialogue they had to work with. I felt Amandla Stenberg was a great lead. She carried the film on her shoulders when needed and I thought she created a very likable character that was able to hit all the emotional beats with authenticity.
This was the case even during some of the more melodramatic moments where I knew the film (with the subtlety of a shovel to the face) was trying to make me feel a specific way. Yet regardless of the forced effort, I actually did and it was because of the endearing performance from Stenberg. Skylan Brooks was very charming as well and he carried the comic-relief with a naturally smooth delivery that at times made me wish he was more of a focal point in the story. Harris Dickinson was a little stiff and awkward at times, but he was more than serviceable, as was the rest of the cast.
The film tells you what you need to know very quickly and then the story gets going from there. Early on I was sitting in my seat surprised by how interested I was in where the story would possibly go. Then somewhere in the middle of the movie, it simply went off the rails for me. This was when I realized a lot of the questions the mythology of this setting posed, would not be answered. The tone overall shifts into a heavily melodramatic gear that almost all but abandons the world-building before it. Simply to focus on the relationship between the two leads, their love for one another, and the societal landscape that will prevent it from ever being able to blossom.
It went from feeling like a YA adaptation with a slight edge, and dare I same some grittiness to it. To one that was so sweet and sappy, it almost makes your teeth hurt. The elements of the story like the color distinction of power levels. The other societies that exist in this world. Why the kids under eighteen have the power, and many other dynamics were simply glossed over with little explanation other than forced exposition through clunky dialogue to fuel the story direction.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this film lost its focus in the back half. It felt like a movie that hit the fast-forward button in some situations to allow more time to work on sequel building. It could have been much better if it had followed the model used in the first half. One that took its time, developed the narrative, and built substance to the characters and the backdrops.
In the end, despite some good performances the film didn’t feel like it had any interest in exploring the unique elements it had to offer. Elements that could have made it stand apart from the sea of other YA adaptations. The film was slightly better than I was expecting. But with what I saw, I felt the source-material had to have offered a much more engaging story to tell than this script would lead us to believe. It had its moments that captivated me early on. But there were also many more that felt very familiar. Regardless of some strong potential, it just played out like another assembly line YA adaptation lacking the depth that must have been available to mine from in the four novels it was based on.
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