The Darkest Minds shows young adult films for what they really are: Cash cows only looking for a future as a franchise
The last time cinemas saw lead Amandla Stenberg take charge of a feature was 2017’s Everything Everything, a young adult novel come feature film, focusing on a young housebound girl suffering from severe immune system deficiencies. A year on, Stenberg has taken up the role of Ruby Daly in The Darkest Minds, a feature also drawn from the text of a young adult novel. Far more expansive in nature than Everything, Everything, The Darkest Minds offers Stenberg more in the way of action but just adds to the pile of unimpressive features aimed at teenage audiences, that will seemingly never stop growing.
In an alternate reality where children become a major threat to the American government, Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) becomes a product of her generation, is incarcerated for an illness that wasn’t her fault. However, with the sickness granting children across the country incredible powers, Ruby and a group of young fighters go on the hunt for a better life for themselves, and all of the other children just like them.
It’s almost as if features aimed at teens have to match an incredible list of criteria before their final cut can be released to cinemas. Novels that are often so original or progressive become confusing both emotionally and literally, looking to tap into the misunderstood teenager’s hormone filled minefield of a brain; An idea that always strikes as strange because young teens will enjoy anything everyone else dislikes.
It’s a conformity that doesn’t seem to overtly plague other sections of cinema, unless its cheap horror or needless action, and shows young adult films for what they really are: Cash cows only looking for a future as a franchise and not a distinct personality. This undermining of the genre from the beginning gives films like The Darkest Minds no hope of succeeding, suggesting a huge shift in momentum needs to hit before these carbon copies will ever stop being produced. Even C.S. Lewis’ incredible tales of Narnia failed due to the dumbing down and personality sucking treatment the original texts are given, dating back to at least 2005.
However, the young cast, perhaps due to some strong experience between them, actually carry The Darkest Minds. They offer relatable, non stereotyped characters with personality, and that counts for something. It isn’t a huge amount with the rest of the film feeling reserved, and unfulfilling, but by combining the positive performances with some of the text’s original ideas, the film is given at least some enjoyable moments.
The positives aren’t freely available, and it feels destined to fail, especially as a series, but it could easily have been far worse than it is. Perhaps The Darkest Minds can be the final film to prove that teenagers need more than just a cheap gimmick to open their wallets hoping to entertain their undervalued minds.
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