***THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED OVER AT THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS ON APRIL 3RD, HERE***
Director: Neil Burger.
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Christian Madsen, Ansel Elgort, Ashley Judd, Kate Winslet, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Tony Goldwyn, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Ray Stevenson.
Running Time: 139 minutes.
Synopsis: Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) lives in a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into factions dependent on personality. When she turns sixteen, she must choose whether to stay within Abnegation for the rest of her life, or live with another faction she believes is right for her. But Beatrice is keeping a secret that puts her life – and that of her family – in serious danger.
It’s incredibly unfair to compare DIVERGENT to the YA (that’s ‘Young Adult’, to those not in the literary loop) adaptations that have come before it. But it’s almost impossible not to. Boasting a central love story, action scenes and a futuristic setting, it is considerably less saccharine than TWILIGHT, less violent than THE HUNGER GAMES and less futuristic than ENDER’S GAME. But, perhaps the most easily accessible when feeling far more of this world, it finds itself sitting rather comfortably amongst the bunch.
Opening to Beatrice’s narration (apparently a necessary YA trope), we are swiftly introduced to each of the five factions – Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave) and Erudite (intelligent). Born into Abnegation, her family lead a modest life focused on helping the Factionless – homeless wanderers who didn’t make the grade elsewhere – and surviving on a low-calorie diet most Hollywood stars would be proud of.
But before each batch of sixteen year-olds makes their life-affirming decision, they are tested (by a criminally miscast Maggie Q) to see what faction they truly belong to. As the title suggests, Beatrice’s brain isn’t as straightforward as all that, possessing elements from each of the five factions and making her, you guessed it, ‘Divergent’. Warned not to tell anyone of this discovery due to the belief Divergents are unpredictable and threaten the peace, Beatrice keeps her head down before making her decision. Surprisingly this whistle-stop tour confuses the synapses a tad more than expected, but once Beatrice and brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) make their choice (think HARRY POTTER minus the talking hat), you get so swept along that it barely even matters.
Quite literally jumping into her new life, newly christened ‘Tris’ is no Katniss Everdeen, but her desperation to discover the secret behind Divergents coupled with a fierce performance from Woodley makes her someone to truly root for and care about. Though her mouth may initially get her in trouble during their intense initiation period, she soon finds herself relying on instructor Four (Theo James) for help understanding her identity.
Woodley and James may be seven years apart, but a palpable chemistry between the pair never overly distracts, a la TWILIGHT, keeping the narrative in motion. Fellow initiates Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Will (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) and Al (Christian Madsen) keep things light and fluffy between their tall orders from leader Eric (who knew Jai Courtney could be so fun?), notably in a game of Capture The Flag, which, along with the film’s hip, energetic soundtrack, is guaranteed to put a big smile on your face.
With freerunners, a banging Ellie Goulding and Zedd-heavy soundscape and an impressive international breakthrough performance from Brit actor James (more than just cheekbones and muscle), this is something teenagers will want to shout about from the rooftops. As for those a little older, it may not be as slick as other entries in the genre and the idea of accepting who you are even if you don’t fit in is beyond worn out, but DIVERGENT shouldn’t be written off completely – even if you only see it for an incredibly game villain in the shape of Kate Winslet and some rather impressive special effects.
For the most part, DIVERGENT is incredibly paint by numbers with a lot of what transpires signalled from a mile off. A subplot involving Tris’ mother (Ashley Judd) never really pays off and Miles Teller is painfully underused, but the script is far from the cringeworthy fare many will expect. Though it’s a big shame Neil Burger won’t be returning to direct the sequel, this is undeniably the start of a very intriguing trilogy.