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‘The Darkest Minds’ Has Good Moments, But It’s Still Your Typical YA Novel-to-Film Adaptation – Review

Amandla Stenberg stars in the highly anticipated film adaptation of the popular YA novel of the same name, written by Alexandra Bracken. The Darkest Minds is set in a dystopian future where a disease has spread throughout the world, which affects children. Those who have survived the outbreak have become different, developing different powers and abilities that have frightened the rest of the world.

The film begins with a young Ruby (Stenberg) sitting in the school cafeteria during lunch break when suddenly, one of her classmate starts to have some kind of neurological episode and collapses at the table. This was Ruby’s first encounter with the highly contagious disease that killed off 90% of the world’s population who were under the age of 17. However, the young people who survived the epidemic were changed. They developed powers that range from ‘safe’ to ‘dangerous’ by the new branch of the government which has rounded up all of the remaining kids, housing them in facilities akin to prisons.

Once they’ve been rounded up, a series of tests are done on the children to see where they fit on the color scale, with green being the least dangerous while oranges and reds are deemed the most volatile, and are terminated immediately. When Ruby arrives at the holding cell, she is checked by the doctor and it is here that she finds out she is an orange – one of the most powerful young people still in existence. About to be terminated, she uses her gift to enter the doctor’s mind and convince him that she is not an orange, but a green. She is one of the safe ones and will not cause any harm.

THE DARKEST MINDS
Liam (Harris Dickinson), Charles (Skylan Brooks), Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) and Zu (Miya Cech) in The Darkest Minds (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Six years later, being an orange is Ruby’s best kept secret. However, it is only a matter of time before she’s discovered.  As the children who fall into the green category have genius-level intelligence, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the guards that Ruby is not as smart as the rest of her group members and therefore, the head of the guards in the camp, McManus, makes it his mission to find out just what Ruby is. When she’s found out to be an orange, she finds help from an unlikely source: a doctor at the camp named Cate (Mandy Moore). Cate helps Ruby escape from the camp but of course in dramatic fashion one roadblock after another gets in the way of a proper escape. But it’s not all bad. One moment leads Ruby to a group of runaway kids: Liam (Harris Dickinson), Charles a.k.a. Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech). Although a bit wary of Ruby at first, the group eventually grows close and become a tight-knit family on the search for a fabled Utopia where kids live protected and free of persecution. But will the group ever get there? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson directs a great cast of actors throughout the film and while it’s Hunger Games-esque in the fact that it has a dystopian narrative, a love triangle and centers around many dramatic thematic elements, it does stand on its own – especially in terms of its diversity. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a YA novel film adaptation which featured such a diverse friends group. In The Darkest Minds two black characters and an Asian character are centered as the main protagonists and this will certainly connect and resonate with a lot of the audience members.

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Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and Zu (Miya Cech) in The Darkest Minds (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Stenberg is certainly making a name for herself in the YA novel adaptation genre. The actress portrayed Rue in The Hunger Games and will next star in The Hate U Give later this year, but as always she brings her own substance to the character. As Ruby, Stenberg has great chemistry with Dickinson’s, Brooks’ and Cech’s characters and you truly believe that the quartet has spent time on the run from the government together. Now, while there’s no doubt that Stenberg is a star, Dickinson, Brooks and Cech hold their own next her. In fact, Brooks as Chubs was most definitely the standout in the movie for me. Brooks was great and had impeccable comedic timing and easily captured the emotion of every moment perfectly.

Having not read the books, I cannot compare the adaptation to the original text. The Darkest Minds was a good film and very much: what you see is what you get.  If you were a fan of the film adaptations of both The Hunger Games and the Divergent Series, you’re likely to enjoy The Darkest Minds.

Be sure to catch The Darkest Minds in theaters this Friday!

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