Dir: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd, Maggie Q, and Kate Winslet
Synopsis: In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
Based off the popular Young Adult Novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, Divergent is set in a dystopian, post-war Chicago where its citizens are divided into five factions, each one emphasizing a particular personality trait: Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (kindness), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (honesty), and Dauntless (bravery). Each one is assigned certain jobs, e.g. Abnegation runs the government, Erudite handles science, and Dauntless are the soldiers. Every citizen must choose their faction and are given a test to see, which faction suits them best. When Abnegation citizen Beatrice Prior (Woodley), who later calls herself Tris, takes the test, she comes up as “Divergent”, which she has to hide because it will make her a target against the higher ranks that including Jeanine (Winslet).
Divergents “threaten the system,” as we’re told over and over by various characters in urgent and cryptic whispers. Why they pose such a danger is not revealed until later in the movie and even then it doesn’t pack much of a punch (at least for me). Despite that, the movie has an interesting world, but we never fully grasp what it really is. We see a somewhat ruined Chicago (which is cool because it’s the home city) with some futuristic touches and we get the idea of the Fraction-less. But the only real concept we see is Beatrice’s Abnegation house when the family eats dinner around a single, tiny light bulb. There are conflicts between the fractions, Erudite and Abnegation, although we don’t see it and are only told through Peter (Teller), who bashes Tris any chance he can get.
Of course being based off a young adult novel, Tris has a love interest in her instructor and Dauntless member Four (James). I’ll admit Woodley and James’ chemistry is one of the best things about Divergent but at the same time it takes away from the other relationships that Tris has with spunky Christina (Kravitz), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Al (Christian Madsen). Even her “rival” Peter and ruthless instructor Eric (Courtney) don’t feel bad, although Eric is menacing at times.
Again, Woodley is probably one of the better parts of the movie. She brings her A-game when need be and adds some depth to the scenes, even when it’s not necessarily needed. Theo James adds some mystery to Four and tries to lead Tris in the right direction. On the other hand, there is some wasted talent when it comes to Kate Winslet’s Jeanine, who feels like she’s evil for the sake of being evil. Even Ray Stevenson’s Marcus, the leader of Abnegation, and Ashley Judd who plays Tris mother feel like they could have gotten other people to do them and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Thankfully, it does make an effort to deliver on the action, although some feels a bit anti-climatic. The zip-lining across Chicago skylines is pretty cool. Even the “fear tests” have some vivid imagery and is the only time the movie allows itself to go into “dark territory” which I kind of wish the movie had more of.
All in all, Divergent is kind of all over the place. For a movie that’s about two and half hours long, it kind of feels like it’s running fast to get through a lot of story that it misses the details that could make it come alive and the plot points that could help it make sense. Although it sounds like I’m bashing it, there were some moments that I did enjoy. While it’s not any different from the other Young Adult Novel adaptation, I’m guessing fans of the book will enjoy seeing the story on the big screen. I know the five pre-teen girls sitting behind me did.
3 out of 5