Diverging little from predictability
Derivative is a suitable title for “Divergent,” the first installment adapted for the big screen from Veronica Roth’s bestselling trilogy. The young adult characters, the dystopian future setting, the societal segregation, all of which revolve around a strong female protagonist combine to provide more than a passing resemblance to the “Hunger Games” franchise. There’s also plenty of the “Twilight” series’ adolescent romantic angst here, a fact that is sure to entice members of the target market (regardless of whether they’re fans of the books). There are even flashes of “Inception” sprinkled throughout.
All of this this doesn’t make “Divergent” a terrible movie, but merely shoulder-shrugging predictable. Melding familiar elements isn’t necessarily a death knell for a film, as last year’s engaging “Ender’s Game” proved. But “Divergent” simply brings too few new or creative ideas to be either compelling or thrilling.
For her part, Shailene Woodley (excellent in “The Descendants”) is a better actress than Kristen Stewart, but she doesn’t have the credible toughness of Jennifer Lawrence.
Woodley’s character Beatrice Prior doesn’t fit perfectly into the five factions the post-war Chicago area society requires of its 16-year olds. When her mandatory test results prove inconclusive, she chooses the “Divergent” faction – the soldiers and protectors group. (From what they are protecting people we are not quite certain; like many elements it’s all a big mystery.) Beatrice is required to abandon her family forever and survive a brutal boot camp designed to eliminate the weak.
It is in this training she meets the handsome, enigmatic training leader Four (Theo James – imagine a taller, more classically handsome James Franco), who will end up, naturally, in a pivotal role by story’s end. There’s another trainer, the heartless Eric (scene-stealer Jai Courtney), the obvious bad guy since he sports the most piercings. Kate Winslet stars as the power-hungry government leader, a role about as unique as her character’s unremarkable blue dress suit.
Like many films in this genre, there are good messages about female empowerment, cautionary warnings against authoritarian rule, and self-sacrifice for the higher good.
That’s all fine and dandy, but “Divergent” lacks a distinctive visual style, is devoid of any surprising plot twists, and suffers from a dearth of charismatic characters to really set itself apart. In addition to these flaws, at two hours and twenty minutes the film is easily twenty minutes too long. The first half of the movie is almost completely captured in the one minute commercial trailer. (Not a good sign.)
Director Neil Burger has at least two exceptional films to his credit: “The Illusionist” and “Limitless.” He can be forgiven for the mediocrity and underwhelming, rote action sequences he provides here.
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sexuality.