Think of it as a round of “Jeopardy.” The answer is: “ ‘Divergent’ lands smack in the middle between ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games.’ ”
The question is: in the Young Adult Novel Movie Adaptation Sweepstakes, where does the new “Divergent” rate?
It’s based on Veronica Roth’s post-apocalyptic literary vision of a Chicago dystopia where society has been divided into five factions and those who are “factionless” wander and starve and suffer.
Young folks – in our story, that means Beatrice “Tris” Prior (Shailene Woodley) – have to choose a faction to belong to in their midteens. And then, after the big choosing ceremony, they have to stay in it for the rest of their lives or else go factionless. You take a test first to help you decide. The test tells you where your natural aptitudes lay.
The factions are called: 1) Dauntless, or the soldiers and cops who do all the daredevil, death-defying things and keep the peace; 2) Erudite, or the people who know everything (or think they do); 3) Abnegation, or the self-sacrificing who live for others, do everything for them and aren’t allowed to look at their own reflections in the mirror; 4) Candor, or the honest ones who always tell the truth, no matter how rude or troubling; and 5) Amity, the friendly folk who are content to till the soil so that everyone else can eat.
Great premise for a novel to be made into a movie, if you ask me. Too bad they only made half of one. Once “Divergent” started, I liked the setup and the ensuing “meet the principals” exposition so much that I was really rooting for this thing to be even better than “The Hunger Games” films. For the first half it seems as if it might be.
But then, the story unfolds and leads to a clichéd and wallopingly inconclusive conclusion so that the way is clear for a sequel. And, by then, the letdown is pretty serious. I wasn’t quite as stricken by it all as our heroine Tris, but I wasn’t a happy camper either. By the end, I was ready to choose a “Hunger Games” movie instead.
Tris has parents (Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn) who are sweet, loving self-effacing members of Abnegation. Usually teens choose the groups they were born into. Every time Tris, though, sees the Dauntless gang running around like schoolkids at recess, making lots of extraneous whooping noises and exhibiting absurd esprit de corps, they seem to be having more fun than all the other groups combined. Her face literally softens from its otherwise permanent tension when she looks at them. You kind of know early on where her sympathies lay.
But to help them all pick, they’re all tested with fear-instilling machines to see how they react. And that’s where Tris finds out she’s got a major problem: she doesn’t really belong anywhere. She’s what’s called a Divergent – with equal aptitude, it seems, for Dauntless, Erudite and Abnegation.
In other words, she’s a completely unpredictable nonconformist. It turns out she also eats fear for breakfast and is brainier than everyone else. She chooses Dauntless anyway, as we all knew and the rest of the movie follows her efforts to make it. Her hunkiest Dauntless mentor (Theo James) sees her leadership qualities and the rest you can see coming a mile away. I find it dismaying that all of this YA (Young Adult) fantasy is stuck in a world of imagination that operates like a socially stratified high school cafeteria with all its stupidities in a world without end, amen.
By the end of the movie so much goes into setting up a sequel that you may not want to see it. Woodley, as Tris, is no Jennifer Lawrence but she’s a lovely presence, by far the best thing about the movie.
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd
Director: Neil Burger
Running time: 139 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sensuality, intense violence and action and thematic elements.
The Lowdown: From Veronica Roth’s Young Adult best-seller, the first film about a post-apocalyptic world where young people have to enter one of five social factions or suffer from being “divergent.”