Divergent exists because of The Hunger Games. While it may be based on its own series of popular YA novels (which were probably also “inspired” by the Games books), it’s the success of Jennifer Lawrence and company that made this possible. Imitation isn’t always so bad if you can find a somewhat interesting way to do it. Yet for the most part, despite a solid effort from the actors involved, Divergent often feels dull, way too familiar, and poorly paced.
In a dystopian future (of course), the city of Chicago now looks like District 12 and society is divided into five needlessly complicated factions where at age 16, citizens must choose where they wish to belong. There’s a faction for smart people and brave people and selfless people and so on. As we open, Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) is about to take her test to find out where she belongs, as is her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort). You take the test to show where to go, but have free will to join another group. You can also be considered divergent, which means you don’t fit into any faction. The powers that be don’t like the free will thinking of that subgroup and kill them. Beatrice turns out to be just that and must hide it from everyone. She joins Dauntless (the brave law enforcement team) to the surprise of her parents (Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd), who are involved in the government ruling selfless faction. Brother Caleb joins the smart people group. Katniss volunteers in place of her little sis… oh, wrong movie.
If this all sounds more complicated than it needs to be, you would be correct. Soon enough, though, we’re in known territory with training sequences that take Tris (she shortens Beatrice) on a physical and mental journey. There’s also several shades of Inception in the proceedings, as part of the training involves dream like worlds and reading minds.
One of Tris’s Dauntless superiors is Four (Theo James) and he becomes her love interest who may have some easily predicted secrets of his own. There’s also Woodley’s Spectacular Now boyfriend Miles Teller as a weasel of a faction member. This is in addition to Shailene’s romantic counterpart Elgort as her brother. So while there’s no love triangle, our lead actress’s filmography makes things kinda awkward.
Kate Winslet leads the smart people faction, who have evil designs on taking over the government themselves. This puts Tris in the position of needing to protect her family while furiously protecting her true divergent nature.
The plus side of Divergent is really with Woodley. She’s a fine actress and she provides a better performance than the material. Same goes for James and most of the other personnel. That’s pretty much where the compliments stop. Some of the action is OK, but Divergent is just so routine. The look and feel borrow way too heavily from the aforementioned other franchise. They even cast Hunger Games costar Lenny’s daughter Zoe Kravitz as Tris’s BFF (best faction friend).
There is an admittedly nifty sequence where Tris simulates flying, albeit in a different way than her costar Winslet did in that movie about a boat and an iceberg. Divergent tries too hard to emulate The King of the YA Adapted Films and hits its own metaphorical ‘berg.
** (out of four)