I may not be the target audience for this movie, but I know what makes a good film. The story of “Divergent” isn’t terrible, but the confusing mixed messages and tropes of the young adult fiction genre turn this into a muddled mess. Potentially certifiable crazy person Shailene Woodley and the cast do their best, but they can’t make the disjointed story make sense. This stinks of a money grab that makes you think the filmmakers couldn’t get behind the undertaking.
DIVERGENT is a thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late. Based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth. (Synopsis by Summit)
Let’s get the obvious comparisons out of the way. For the ladies, it’s pretty much “The Hunger Games.” Fellas? It does sound an awful lot like “Avatar.” There isn’t anything new here—you’ve seen every aspect of the story before in some (better) form. For the target audience, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Young adults don’t typically have as broad a literary context to identify hackneyed tropes when they see them. However, most writers will generally attempt to hide them a little better. Most of this film feels like the writers room just gave up and didn’t even bother trying to have an original idea. It is unfair to blame the screenwriters attempting to translate the novel to screen. At best, they fell into the trap of the original narrative and then piled on. Do the members of the Dauntless faction need to play out like parkour loving club kids? Why did I feel like this was a back alley version of “Party Monster” for the first hour? The moments of teenage “rebellion” are taken so seriously, they are laughable. We are bad ass Dauntless! Let’s prove it by getting tattoos! Take that MOM! (back flips over a low concrete wall) This is the Poochie to the “Hunger Game’s” Bart—except “Divergent” forgot that Poochie was supposed to be a joke.
“Divergent” wants to believe it has deep, important things to tell young women and with that mission in mind, takes itself super seriously. There are good messages here; individualism, strength of character, friendship, etc. Unfortunately, the story undermines each of those good messages by character actions that are in direct conflict with them. Let us count the ways. 1) You are an individual that doesn’t have to conform to society to rise to your full potential. Conflict: Eternally running back to that family/social structure of the five factions and ultimately saving that system. 2) Women are strong, capable, and intelligent. Conflict: Constantly being saved from adversity by your father and boyfriend. The plot revolves around rejecting scientific learning (science BAD), while trying to get a boyfriend (boys GOOD). 3) Family morals are important, i.e. we should wait. Conflict: Didn’t you just spend at least 10 weeks in a co-ed dorm with shared bathroom facilities “Starship Troopers” style? Where exactly is the moral line in this society?
This isn’t an accessible movie to anyone who isn’t a fan of the book series (read: preteen girl). It just isn’t good enough to capture other audiences’ attention. There are 45 minutes of training at Dauntless that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Much of the plot falls into the same mistake that “Ender’s Game” and the later “Harry Potter” movies made: things happen because the book says they do! Keep pushing the plot forward! Maybe in the sequels the major plot gaps will be explained (Why is Chicago surrounded by a fence?). Even the major theme of the story is never really gets hashed out. Divergents have to be killed because… they are a detriment to the faction system? I guess? Take that individualism! For the young adult group, this is a safe enough escape.
Hopefully the parents who are going to get dragged to this can convince their preteen there are better options out there.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Skip it. As if women weren’t misrepresented enough in the science field, Tris literally kicks a scientist around for the last twenty minutes. Take that, learnin’!
ONE AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by Neil Burger
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.
Runtime: 2 hr. and 23 mins.