Divergent (Summit Entertainment)
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Kate Winslet, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Christian Madsen, Amy Newbold.
Written by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor, based on the novel by Veronica Roth.
Directed by Neil Burger.
It seems everyone has dire view of the future these days, especially in fiction and film. Ever since George Orwell penned a narrative that placed mankind under the thumb of totalitarianism, the optimists have taken a back seat to Dystopia. Recently, zombie apocalypses, nuclear winters and environmental wastelands have permeated entertainment media, with fare like Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, etc. The latest fad is Divergent, another series of books about a girl who must transcend post-apocalyptic societal rules to “win” against whatever injustice exists in the future. Veronica Roth’s first novel comes to life on the big screen this weekend – with plenty of rabid book fans carrying high expectations.
Shailene Woodley plays Beatrice (later: ‘Tris’), a teenage girl living in Chicago, sometime in the distant future following some kind of global war. People living in the city are separated into 5 factions, based on their dominant personality traits: the selfless types belong to Abnegation, the peace-loving agrarian hippie types belong to Amity, the honest folks are tabbed for Candor, the brave ones are meant for Dauntless, and the intelligent ones are grouped into Erudite. There is a sixth group of downtrodden outcasts known as “Factionless” who live on the garbage of the others.
At 16, Tris and the other kids go through a testing process intended to help them choose their preferred faction. Tris’ test reveals that she doesn’t have any of the faction-approved dominant traits, and is discovered as a “divergent,” or someone who’s good at everything. Faction leaders tend to shun divergents, since they pose a threat to their order. Tris and her family (mom and dad are played by Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn) are Abnegation, but the girl chooses Dauntless, where she must try to survive a deadly boot camp – or be thrust out of mainstream faction society.
In the meantime, Tris discovers a plot by a few faction leaders (including Erudite boss Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet) to root out divergents and take over the government by killing off all the Abnegations. Tris also falls for her hunky trainer ‘Four’ (Theo James) prior to confronting Jeanine and her cohorts in a major battle.
Divergent isn’t a terrible movie. It’s got plenty of action and drama, along with adequate performances by Woodley, James, Winslet and Judd. The futuristic world of Chicago (filmed in Chicago, for effect) is interesting and offers a realistic visual of an alternative future. There’s also little chemistry between Woodley and James, as the pair engage in a little passionate PG-13 kissing (no sex).
I suppose my main gripe with Divergent has less to do with the actors or director Neil Burger’s adaptation the novel and more to do with Roth’s premise. There is very little originality in her story, which has a near-formulaic structure to it (gifted teen girl, out to save the world from evil totalitarians). I’m sure fans of the book series (there will be two more films – at least) won’t be too disappointed (despite several liberties with the adaptation), but for the rest of us, Divergent won’t be much more than yet another ‘future girl’ story.
I also tire of the premise that such regimes are where society is headed. You’d think with all the recent advances in technology and enlightenment, someone might figure out something a little less bleak.
You can start the Apocalypse without me.