The De-Animator: Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3 Director Goes For Humans, Leaving Viewers with “The Darkest Minds”

I know The Hunger Games. I survived The Hunger Games. And Darkest Minds, you’re no Hunger Games.

You’re also no Divergent, The Giver, or Never Let Me Go. Well, to be fair, you might be The Giver.

This adaptation of the first book of Alexandra Bracken’s bestselling dystopian YA trilogy is the live-action debut for helmer Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who previously earned cheers for directing computerized pandas, peacocks, and tigers.

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L-R: Chubs (SKYLAN BROOKS), Zu (MIYA CECH), Ruby (AMANDLA STENBERG) and Liam (HARRIS DICKINSON) in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE DARKEST MINDS. Photo credit: Daniel McFadden

Unfortunately, with flesh and blood creatures, she’s not so hot. Of course, she and her cast is saddled with a clumsy, inane script by Chad (Wayward Pines) Hodge that will have you at times wincing. Experiencing his dialogue is sort of like getting a mental colonoscopy without the anesthesia, especially during the clichéd romantic moments and, in fact, nearly whenever an actor opens his mouth: “You’re just a bunch of negative nellies.”

But the blame clearly lies with Yuh. Her staging continually lacks imagination. From the action scenes to the car chases to the flashbacks, these could all be excerpts from a film major’s C+ final project, which is sad because the premise is intriguing, and the book, at least what I read of it, is thoroughly engrossing and relevant. (The first three chapters are available free on Amazon. I didn’t feel like spending $6.95 for the whole Kindle experience.)

Then there are the continuity problems. In one scene, our heroine is handcuffed to a cot. After a quick cut, she’s strutting down an aisle cuffless. How? Editor Dean (Stranger Things) Zimmerman was apparently asleep at the wheel, but then much of his work here is stupefyingly amateurish. Note the substandard fight scenes in the shopping mall.

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The way to a girl’s heart is apparently hosiery in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE DARKEST MINDS.

The plot commences, if you’re still interested, with over 90% of America’s youth dying from Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegeneration. The few survivors apparently have developed extraordinary powers such as psychokinesis, the ability to control minds (e.g. getting adults to shoot themselves), emitting fire from their eyes, and the capability to pass advanced calculus exams. They are very bright. Two even have a prolonged conversation on the benefits of red peppers over green peppers.

Fearful of what these young ‘uns are capable of, the President forcibly separates them from their parents a la our own administration, placing the teens in camps where they are divided by the color of their brain powers. Orange is the most dangerous. They are then forced to shine the shoes of the guards subjugating them.

After six years of polishing, Ruby Daly (the affable Amandla Stenberg) escapes thanks to the help of Cate (a bland Mandy Moore), who’s with the revolutionary Youth League, which wants to overthrow the government utilizing the kids’ powers. Not trusting her, Ruby jumps into a van with three other young escapees, one of whom, Liam Stewart (Harris Dickinson), she immediately falls in love with. He responds and gifts her with a pair of tube socks.

The Darkest Minds, of course, doesn’t end when it ends because it’s part of a trilogy, and you are supposed to be hooked by its finale to want more and more. And if you are a preadolescent, you might just be. If your voice has already changed, you’ll probably not be.

For the rest of us, there might be some satisfaction garnered from the fact that one of America’s most promising actors, Harris Dickinson, who was brilliant in last year’s indie offering, Beach Rats, is finally making some major studio dinero. If you’re going to waste talent, you might as well spread the wealth.

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Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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