Imagine if the X-Men's Rogue were also telepathic and accidentally Hermione Grangered herself out of her parents’ memories. Then imagine she were sent as punishment to District 13, where she’s beaten by the cartoon version of William Stryker until she escapes with Jubilee, Beast and an angsty Peeta Mellark. Then they all find their way to Charles Xavier’s Sleepaway Camp for the Gifted, run by a psychotic teenage Professor X who eventually tries to rape Rogue and sell all her friends back to District 13 as part of a master plan to get back at his dad, the presidential version of William Stryker. That’s essentially the plot of The Darkest Minds, a YA dystopian sci-fi thriller that shamelessly poaches most of its key elements and characters from other, better examples of the genre. The result is a shoddy patchwork quilt of moments that mimic the most resonant parts of other stories, but don’t bother to elevate them.
Based on the book trilogy by Alexandra Bracken, the film revolves around Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg, of, ironically, The Hunger Games), a teen survivor of a pandemic that killed 90 percent of the world's children and gifted the rest with powers. Terrified of the newly powerful youngsters, the government rounds them up and places them in labor camps. Ruby is a telepath who can not only read, but control, minds, and after she accidentally wipes her herself from her parents’ memories in an attempt to stop them from worrying about her, they call the police and off to a camp she goes. She escapes six years later and spends the rest of the movie trying to navigate her own abilities as well as the forces who pursue her and those like her.
It's a mildly intriguing premise, but the film doesn't follow through on it with any sort of logic, so the entire story unravels almost as soon as it begins. Audiences are asked to believe that after a plague wipes out 90 percent of children in the United States, the survivors wouldn't be treated with extreme care given they'd be the literal future of humanity. Nope, they’re instead snatched from their parents (with virtually no protest) and placed in labor camps, where they work in sweatshops making … boots. And on top of that, the story attempts to implement a weird color-coded power hierarchy that's meant to sow disunity among the kids, but doesn't make enough sense to have any actual narrative impact.
Greens are the lowest threat; their only real superpower is their intelligence. Next are Blues (telekinesis), then Yellows (electrokinesis), then Oranges and Reds, the most lethal as telepaths and animalistic fire-breathers (closest comparison would be the muttations from The Hunger Games). Orange and Reds are deemed most dangerous, and are isolated or killed if they’re detected, but Greens, Blues and Yellows are left alone ... as though intelligence, telekinesis and the ability to conduct electricity are nothing to worry about.