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"Divergent" May be Derivative but It's Not a Dud

Movies & DVDs

Release Date: March 21, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Action-Adventure
Run Time: 139 min.
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer



Let's get the obvious out of the way, shall we? Yes, Divergent shares several things in common with The Hunger Games, but that won’t bother the film's target audience one bit.

From the dreary dystopian setting to themes of class warfare and the cost of rebelling against authority, bothThe Hunger Games and Divergent were based on a series of bestselling young adult books with a strong female protagonist. Unlike, say, Twilight's angst-y Bella Swan, getting the guy isn't the main priority of the lead characters in The Hunger Games or Divergent. In one perilous situation after another, these young women can take care of themselves while saving others in duress, thank you very much.

Making up for the gulf in originality and plotting that often stretches the realms of believability, however, are exceptional actresses who are part superhero, part everywoman. Following in the footsteps of Jennifer Lawrence (not exactly the easiest of endeavors), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) also lends genuine emotional transparency to such a physically demanding role.

It's not the fights or feats of strength that ultimately stick with the viewer (although many are entertaining, given her decidedly diminutive stature), it's the quieter, more vulnerable moments where Woodley shines the brightest. Rather than giving her a script full of clever one-liners, director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) brings out an openness and approachability in Woodley which helps her carry the film. And thanks to an impressive supporting cast, including Kate Winslet (Labor Day), Maggie Q (Mission Impossible 3) and Woodley's Spectacular Now co-star Miles Teller, Divergent is never a dud even when it feels derivative.

When we're first introduced to Beatrice (Woodley), she's basically in the midst of making the biggest high-stakes decision of her life. Now 16 years old, she's got the dreaded Choosing Ceremony on her calendar. After submitting to a series of disturbing tests that help sort out which of five societal "factions" would best suit her personality, she's got exactly one opportunity to decide whether to stay with her family in Abnegation (the faction of the selfless) or permanently carve out her own path in Erudite (the intelligent), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the brutally honest) or Dauntless (the brave).

In order to keep the peace, local lawmakers dictate that no one is allowed to change his/her mind once a faction has been selected. If someone doesn't fit squarely into one of those five categories, he or she is essentially issued a sentence worse than death: if anyone fails to complete the initiation process in his/her chosen faction, the higher-ups declare the offender "factionless" and relegate him/her to poverty and society's most unglamorous jobs. Survival for the factionless is an uphill climb—and that's being generous.

Meanwhile, there's also a not-so-special term for those seemingly-unfocused Jacks- and Jills-of-All-Trades who might fit into several categories: Divergent. Turns out Beatrice is part of this group of undesirables, the private knowledge of which causes her to struggle with her identity and where she belongs more than ever. She ultimately follows her instincts, opting for the less-traveled road—one that doesn't include her loving parents Andrew and Natalie (Tony Goldwyn, TV's Scandal and Ashley Judd, Dolphin Tale).

While the viewer clearly feels the ache of such an important decision for Beatrice, who eventually shortens her name to the much-cooler "Tris," the whole faction system—and the reasons for its existence—could've been explored more effectively. Like many book to big-screen adaptations, much is lost in translation for anyone who hasn't bothered with the source material.

Perhaps sensing the disconnect, the screenwriters resorted to clunky informative dialogue that does little to illuminate how post-war Chicago wound up with such a bizarre method of governing. But if my screening audience is any indication, such crucial details might not matter. Once "Four" (U.K.-based TV actor Theo James) took off his shirt and showed his tattoos to Tris, the crowd cheered and whooped the way they did for Robert Pattison and Taylor Lautner back when Twilight released.

Dystopia or not, hot guys apparently never go out of style. Thankfully, Tris and Four's romance is far more believable than anything from Twilight or Hunger Games, which will probably ensure this series repeat business.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Characters are injected with a serum that taps into their memories, fears and how they’d respond in various turbulent situations.
  • Language/Profanity: A single use of bit—and as-hole. An exclamation of God’s name.
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing. A girl is briefly shown in her bra. A female character tells her love interest to “go slow,” and their relationship never escalates to anything beyond making out on occasion. During a hallucination, a female character envisions being taken advantage of sexually, but the guy is given a swift kick before things escalate.
  • Violence: Tris gets beat up pretty bad on several occasions. There’s a scene where knives are whipped at Tris. Multiple fatalities by gunfire. A teen suicide. Disturbing scenes where birds are attacking someone. Other disturbing material involves a character’s close call with drowning, a room rapidly closing in on someone, scary jumps from considerable heights, children/townspeople being trampled and threatened, various scenes of hand-to-hand combat.

Publication date: March 21, 2014

Page Source (url): http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/movies/divergent-movie-review.html

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