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Review: ‘The Darkest Minds’ is a YA Adaptation that Goes Beyond the Genre’s Typical Dystopian Future

August 3, 2018Britany Murphy

Navigating your childhood and adolescence is never easy, but how would one cope when there's a deadly disease that targets children 17 and under? And even if you're lucky enough to survive, you're so different that everyone is afraid of you? Well, that is just what Ruby Daly has to cope with in The Darkest Minds.

The film starts off with a voiceover from Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) remembering her younger self (Lydia Jewett) seeing the effects of the virus for the first time. It was during lunch in the school cafeteria when her classmate began to have an unexplained neurological episode, collapsing onto the floor in the midst of all the other students. Later given the name AINN, the highly contagious disease kills off 98% of the population below the age of 20, with the surviving 2% of young people developing strange and mysterious powers that the rest of the world are afraid of. Declared a threat by the government, the remaining children are rounded up and put into various internment camps, where they are separated by the type of power they have, which range from safe to dangerous by color (green being the safest, while anyone classified as an orange or a red is terminated immediately).

When Ruby is classified as an orange, she utilizes her gifts to convince the resident Dr. Viceroy (Wallace Langham) that she is a safe green, which ends up being her most guarded secret for six years. Then one day, after a stay in the hospital, Ruby meets anti-government doctor Cate Connor (Mandy Moore), who reveals to Ruby that the guards know her secret and that they plan to terminate her. Not knowing who to trust, Ruby flees with Cate, but of course, not everything goes entirely as planned. And when Ruby and Cate make a pit-stop on their travels, Ruby discovers some other kids on the run and abandons Cate and her partner, Rob Meadows (Mark O'Brien) to team up with her newfound group of friends — Liam (Harris Dickinson), Charles a.k.a. Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech). The quartet have various powers ranging from super-intelligence and telekinesis to the ability to control electricity and manipulate people's minds, which help the team immensely as they try to remain safe from bounty hunters like Lady Jane (Gwendoline Christie) and a sinister group called "The League."

Pair all of these dramatics with a side of laughs and a love triangle, and you have what is essentially your typical YA dystopian film. But despite similarities to series like The Hunger Games and the Divergent movie franchises, The Darkest Minds does have some elements that make it stand out — most notably the poignant way the film emphasizes the theme of family being what you make it and how it is important to accept yourself as you are, and that these powers, no matter how they are defined by the government, do not define you. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson does a good job balancing the varying tones of the movie and making sure the result is not overly dark, but instead has light-hearted moments peppered throughout. Yuh Nelson also gets the best out of her entire cast, which is great to see.

The chemistry shared between Stenberg, Dickinson, Brooks and Cech is also great, and by the film's end, you truly believe that they are a tight-knit family. While Stenberg is undoubtedly the star, Brooks is arguably the movie's standout. He plays the role of Chubs perfectly and is easily believable as the wise-cracking know-it-all with a heart of gold. But ultimately, all of the actors are fantastic in their respective roles, and trying to picture other actors taking their place in the series is hard to do. Whether with one another, or in scenes featuring their character alone, Stenberg, Dickinson, Brooks and Cech all deserve high praise for what they bring to this adaptation.

Based on the novel by Alexandra Bracken, The Darkest Minds is a commendable kick-off to a potential trilogy, but one that still has its flaws as it ultimately falls into the same tropes as the YA novel film adaptations that have come before it. Despite having a great cast and good directing, this is a movie geared toward teenagers that is also nothing that we haven't seen before. That said, the way The Darkest Minds deals with themes of family, powers and self-acceptance is what truly sets it apart from other films in the genre.

The Darkest Minds releases August 3rd, 2018 from 20th Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 45 min.

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