Divergent | Neil Burger | March 21, 2014
Divergent is the latest adaption of a young-adult book series (penned by Veronica Roth) turned into a big-budget film, with its sights set to become the next big movie franchise. While the film clearly aims to become the next The Hunger Games, it doesn’t hit the mark it so ambitiously tries to achieve.
It all goes down in futuristic dystopian Chicago, where life has drastically changed after a rough war. Society is now divided into five factions, with each serving a different role and purpose aiming to provide a better life for all. You’re born into whatever fraction your parents are in, but upon turning 16, you’re able to take a test to help guide you to whatever faction you tuly belong in. The test is just for guidance, while the choice is ultimately yours.
This is where we meet our heroine, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley). She’s clearly different, as she takes a liking to Dauntless, the more wild and dangerous fraction, wile her parents (Tony Goldwyn & Ashley Judd) are in Abnegation, the fraction that prides itself for selflessness. It’s not until she takes her test that she realizes just how different she is. Her test results show no alignment to any fraction, causing the woman administering the test (Maggie Q) to panic. This is because Beatrice is divergent, a rare case where a person is able to think so freely that the government has no way to conform their thoughts. As you can guess, this is something that the very controlling government sees as a threat. Beatrice immediately catches the eye of Jeannine (Kate Winslet), a leader of one of the fractions who clearly has ulterior motives.
When the time for Beatrice to make her choice comes, she goes with Dauntless. Her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) goes to a fraction called Erudite, splitting up their family. With her joining of Dauntless, Beatrice’s world is turned upside down, as she’s subjugated to intense training made to separate the weak from the strong, the type that Dauntless desire. There she meets Dauntless leader Four (Theo James) and the less kind Eric (Jai Courtney). Fellow Dauntless hopefuls include Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Al (Christian Madsen), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Peter (Miles Teller).
Beatrice, who changes her name to Trish (all Dauntless members are required to change their names), initially struggles with the training. She immediately strikes up a rapport with Four, who helps her along the way. The two of them immediately take a liking to one another, and you can guess where it’s all headed. Four has some idea about her being different, but Trish isn’t sure if she can tell him, considering all those thought to be divergent are sent off to be killed. But with the government’s plans for total control soon to come to fruition through Jeannine, they need to start trusting one another.
Divergent so clearly wants to be the next Hunger Games. Yet aside from its dystopian plot featuring youths, it doesn’t even come close. Neil Burger’s unenthusiastic direction along with Evan Daugherty & Vanessa Taylor’s adapted screenplay both ultimately fall flat. Everything just happens on screen, without ever making that big leap to pull the audience in. The performances from Shailene Woodley and Theo James are fine, but they don’t ever hit the mark in ways that the script had hoped for. Woodley’s potential, seen in films such as The Descendants and The Spectacular Now, isn’t found here. The chemistry just isn’t there between them. There’s not much you won’t see coming here. At nearly 140 minutes, things run way too long, not doing anyone any favors.
While mostly underwhelming, Divergent was entertaining enough to keep me interested enough. There’s certainly room for improvement, as the experience on the whole felt forgettable (while The Hunger Games films have left me anxiously wanting more). With three more films in the works (the third will be split into two) the series will need to drastically step up its game in order to be the franchise that it’s trying so hard to be.