New Review: Divergent (2014)
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jai Courtney, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn, Mekhi Phifer, Maggie Q, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Ray Stevenson
Divergent feels less like a movie and more like the first act to a much bigger storyline. About 80% of the film's two hour and twenty minute running time is spent showing the main character undergoing extensive physical and mental training in order to be a soldier. We spend so much time in the training grounds that we get a little anxious. We want to learn more about the futuristic society that lies just outside of it, but Divergent rarely ever lets us. We're told little things here and there in the beginning, but after that, it's a long and arduous trip to...well, the first turning point.
The story, which is based on the first of Veronica Roth's YA trilogy, takes place in a dystopian future where the entire country, except for Chicago, was destroyed in a war one hundred years ago. Since then, society has been divided up into five factions: the Erudite are known for their intelligence; the Candor for their honesty; the Abnegation for their selflessness; the Amity for their peaceful ways; and the Dauntless for their bravery. Every year, 16-year olds are made to take a test that should let them know which faction they will be best suited for. If they're not suited for any faction, they're basically kicked out into the streets and turned into homeless scavengers (there's no 'going back home and livin' with the folks' in this society).
Occasionally, there are those who get inconclusive test results. They're known as "divergents," and they're such a threat to the society that they're immediately killed as soon as they're made known. In the film's opening, 16-year old Beatrice "Tris" Prior (Shailene Woodley) goes to take her test, and is told by her tattoo-artist test administer Tori (Maggie Q) that she's a divergent, and that she needs to keep that part of herself a secret from everyone, including her family and friends. When the time comes to choose which faction they want to be a part of, Tris goes with the Dauntless, who are the protectors of the city.
The training scenes are rife with the usual clichéd characters, including the smug bully Peter (Miles Teller, who was actually Woodley's love interest in last year's The Spectacular Now, and has a scene where he beats the crap out of her here) who makes life hell for Tris, and the hard nosed instructor Eric (Jai Courtney), who's also the leader of the Dauntless. In most movies based on YA novels, it's almost a requirement that there be a romantic interest for the heroine, and here she falls for her more understanding instructor Four (Theo James), so named because he suffers from four fears. And like most romantic subplots in movies based on YA novels, it's not very convincing. There's just no chemistry there, and when they first kiss, it feels forced.
As mentioned, the majority of the movie focuses on Tris as she goes through her Dauntless training, and some of it is entertaining. The most enjoyable scene in the film is also one you've seen in quite a few other movies. The Dauntless play a game where they are broken up into teams, and one team has to capture the other team's flag. It's familiar, sure, but it's kind of fun, and I did enjoy the scene right after where Tris zip lines back to base.
Eventually, Four uncovers a sinister plot. It seems the evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) plans to use a mind control substance on the new Dauntless soldiers, and use them to wipe of the Abnegation, who pose a threat to the system. This leads to a climactic action scene, where Tris has to try and save her parents (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn), both of whom are Abnegation leaders, thwart Jeanine's mind control plan, and escape the city by train. It's certainly well-staged, but it comes right at the very end of the movie, and it takes forever to get to that point.
That's a shame, because in all honesty, this isn't a badly made movie. Director Neil Burger uses solid special-effects to create the futuristic society. The movie was shot on location in Chicago, and the special-effects convincingly render many of the city's buildings into a state of disrepair. The action scenes, or the few there are, are also very well-staged. Burger does occasionally use shaky camera shots, but not to the point where it becomes distracting. I also enjoyed the many scenes where characters had to undergo mental training, which involves them getting injected with a hallucinogen and forced to confront their greatest fears.
The acting is also surprisingly strong. Woodley, one of the best young actresses working today, turns in a engaging and multi-layered performance as Tris, capturing her character's strength and vulnerability, and generally making us care for her, even when the screenplay fails to. James is actually likable as Four, and Courtney is quite good as the jerk Eric (based on his performance here, the otherwise mediocre Jack Reacher, and last year's atrocious Die Hard fiasco, I'd say he's far more convincing as a bad guy than a good guy). Offering solid support are Zoe Kravitz as Beatrice's friend Christina, Teller as the contemptible ass Peter, Judd and Goldwyn as her parents, and Ansel Elgort as her brother Caleb.
All of it, however, is at the service of an unfocused and meandering production. This is a weak starting point for what is most certainly going to be a film series, and yet even with that said, I have to admit that I'm a little bit curious to see where it's going to go from here. The film's theme of individuality vs conformity is a compelling one, and while the ideas behind the story are not at all original, they are workable. I didn't much like the first The Hunger Games, but the second film was one of my favorites of last year. I honestly hope for the same thing with this franchise. The elements are certainly all there. Here's hoping the next film will have a tighter script and a faster pace (and would someone please pick a better soundtrack).
Rated PG-13 for violence, very little profanity, and some sensuality
Final Grade: ** ½ (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :D
Other Thoughts on Divergent! :)
- Reelviews Movie Reviews
- Combustible Celluloid Review - Divergent (2014), Evan Daugherty, Vanessa Taylor, based on a novel by
- Mark Reviews Movies: DIVERGENT
- Dustin Putman's Review: Divergent (2014)
Divergent (2014) - 2.5/4 Stars - Rising in strife and momentum as the story builds toward a temporary stopping point rather than a clear-cut ending, 'Divergent' is a solid start to a new franchise for Summit Entertainment.
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