REVIEW: DIVERGENT / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: NEIL BURGER / SCREENPLAY: EVAN DAUGHERTY, VANESSA TAYLOR / STARRING: SHAILENE WOODLEY, THEO JAMES, ASHLEY JUDD, JAI COURTNEY, RAY STEVENSON, ZOË KRAVITZ, MILES TELLER, TONY GOLDWYN, MAGGIE Q, KATE WINSLET / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Within the last ten years or so, the number of movies based on books has grown exponentially. Blockbuster franchises like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games proved with each successive installment that YA fiction is ridiculously lucrative, causing various studios to jump on the bandwagon and attempt to replicate past successes. Unfortunately, the latest example of this, Divergent, fails to reach Hunger Games status in both success and quality, resulting in a franchise that might be over before it even really starts.
Based on Veronica Roth's runaway bestseller, Divergent centres around Beatrice Prior, a young girl struggling to define herself in a war torn, dystopian world. Following a devastating conflict that wiped out most of the planet, Chicago is divided into five groups, or “factions,” that separate people based on particular qualities or personalities. Beatrice, or “Tris” as she rechristened herself, comes from Abnegation, a faction that prides itself on selflessness and rejection of vanity. During her aptitude test, Beatrice discovers that she is Divergent, meaning that she doesn't belong in any faction. Divergents are considered a threat by the government and are swiftly executed. Given this, Tris keeps her identity a secret, falling in with Dauntless, the brave faction. Her rigorous training thrusts her into a world of discipline and cruelty, a world that initially appalls her. But when Tris uncovers a horrifying plot by the government to essentially massacre civilians, she must embrace her destiny as a Divergent and stop this heinous crime.
While the film contains some pretty formidable star power, it uses little of it. Shailene Woodley leads a cast that includes Kate Winslet, Miles Teller, Jai Courtney, Theo James, and others, but none of them turn in performances we know they are capable of. The blame can be split two ways. On one hand, director Neil Burger (Limitless) busies himself with building a bleak dystopian society while at the same time pushing aside the story and characters that actually make that society interesting. On the other hand, the actors appear bored, tired, and dull, as if a hazy stupor took hold of them and suppressed any kind of creative expression. Viewers are likely to share the actors' lethargy, because instead of receiving that exhilarating boost of adrenaline that usually accompanies a good ending, they feel sapped.
Though Burger's misguided direction leaves much to be desired, it does paint a vivid picture of the world Tris is forced to live in. Chicago is brilliantly re-imagined as a derelict city still on the mend from a war that happened decades before. It's just a shame we don't see the same level of care applied to every aspect of the movie; world-building doesn't matter if no one cares about the people in it.
Divergent is by no means a good movie, but it does raise some interesting questions and plant the seeds for some very intriguing character dynamics down the line. We just wish some of that had been included here.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10