About ten years ago, give or take, the YA adaptation movement was beginning with the Twilight phenomena sweeping the globe. It was Stephanie Meyer’s books that gave a new pulse to the fiction sub-genre and Hollywood took notice. Within a few years, a plethora of novels were optioned into movies, notably The Hunger Games and Divergent, and the cash registers went into overdrive with studios being handsomely rewarded for their investments and risks.
Then, suddenly, the bubble burst – those who had championed the franchises had become adults and those coming of age found their attentions turning to other things (some of the Netflix shows – Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale – have helped fill the void ). The Divergent series didn’t even get to finish its run with part three, Allegiant, tanking at the box office and part four still in limbo but we can safely assume that we won’t see it anytime soon. But such failure hasn’t seen the train slow down and The Darkest Minds is the latest pretender to the crown, but while its intentions are hugely noble, it sadly falls well short of expectations.
Playing as a conglomeration of the aforementioned Netflix shows and YA films, as well as X-Men (notably the Dark Phoenix saga) and the far superior The Girl With All The Gifts, The Darkest Minds tells of a world event that has taken half of the child/teen population and left those remaining with a series of gifts ranging from super smarts, telekinesis and mind manipulation. Separated from their families and friends, those afflicted are sent to, you guessed it, segregation camps at the behest of the US government and kept prisoners until they find a resolution.
The problem here isn’t that anything on show is particularly bad, nor is it not entertaining for its target audience but The Darkest Minds falls because despite its desire to be unique we’ve sadly been here before – and seen it done much better. It’s tried hard to break out of the norm, with its darker undertones of government oppression and political fear-mongering, as well as that of family bonds, but no matter how hard it tries, it can’t shake the shadows the ghosts of YA’s past.
Indeed, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 3) tries hard to inject some energy into proceedings, as do her cast (led by Amandla Stenberg and Beach Rats star Harris Dickinson) but you never get the sense that the narrative is taking us anywhere, that it lacks a propulsive thrust to kick it into gear, struggling to shake its lazy, haphazard narrative.
Ultimately, The Darkest Minds isn’t a total failure but for all the solid work on show, it’s hard to shake everything that has gone before particularly when it hits every cliche and narrative twist we’ve seen many times before. Somewhat ironically, if this had been set up as a Netflix series, it may have faired better – as it is, it’s a big disappointment.