Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world years after some horrible war tore apart the fabric of society (good times!), Shailene Woodley stars as Tris – a teen girl living in what used to be Chicago, and not sure about her future.
The city is broken up into 5 factions that serve as a division of labor or caste system if you will, and teen kids have to choose which one they want to join, after a series of tests that give them a strong suggestion of where they belong (nothing like teaching kids the appearance of free will vs. reality at a young age).
While Tris was born into Abnegation (the do-gooders who run the government and think of everyone else before themselves), she ends up choosing Dauntless (the cool kids who are rebels who fight and shoot guns, wear awesome clothes and get tattoos! How does any teenager NOT choose Dauntless?). However, she has a bigger secret to hide.
Tris is Divergent, which means she has skills that make her fit into any group, and that scares those who want to control Chicago. The smart people, Erudite, are trying to get rid of Divergents, and Tris is about to face a test that could reveal her true nature, and put her life in great peril.
Will Tris be found out?
Will she get to kiss the cute boy?
You didn’t think we would have a tweener movie without a cute boy, did you?
If I was a 13 year old girl, Divergent would be my GoodFellas. It has all of the ingredients to the formula they want in a movie like this. It is set in a dystopian future that is bleak and seems divided up much like high school. We have a heroine struggling to fit in because she is different (and kicking some booty along the way). And, it features a boy who looks good with his shirt off.
Of course, for us adults, Divergent is bland and blah and predictable.
Director Neil Burger, along with writers Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor (based on the novels by Veronica Roth), spend too much time trying to establish the world of Divergent, instead of getting into the story and exploring the bigger political intrigue brewing below the surface, also known as failing to get to the freaking point.
You get the sense everyone is trying too hard to make this Part One of a franchise of multiple movies, instead of making it a stand alone story as they save too much for the sequel and toss in a bunch of revelations and plot in the last 20 minutes because someone just realized we need to end this marathon movie.
Even the cast is reflective of hope for the future more than delivering a good movie right now. Kate Winslet shows up as Jeanine – the ruthless leader of Erudite (who still looks meek and mild compared to Chicago’s current leader, Rahm Emanuel). She gets a couple scenes, but her big plot is never one that builds on top of well timed revelations. It just shows up towards the end when Burger and crew need some action to wake us from our slumber.
Then, Woodley, who I loved in The Descendants, does her best to make the typical, formulaic stuff interesting. She’s making Tris mightily struggle with her secret and confusion over what it means for her safety, battle her brewing emotions, and deal with horrible betrayals, as well as fear for her family and friends as she wonders who she can trust. Woodley even finds a bit of subtlety and control when playing the teen girl getting hot and bothered for the dude who looks good with his shirt off (bonus points for the tattoos), in spite of some of the silliest dialogue in Divergent being thrown to her in these scenes.
Divergent shows some hope, but shouldn’t they be required to deliver on some of that hope now to justify a second or third movie later?
Divergent is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality.