Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
Genre: Action/ Adventure
After some kind of generic global war has apparently decimated the global population, what remains of the human population lives in what is left of Chicago and are divided into five factions depending on their personality traits: Abnegation (the ruling faction) who are selfless, Amity who are peaceful, Candor who are honest, Dauntless who are fearless and Erudite who have superior intelligence. It is a system designed to keep the peace and at the age of 16 each citizen takes a serum based aptitude test where they are told which faction they ideally belong to, but they are free to choose (but a choice they are committed to for life). Though growing up with parents from Abnegation, in her test Beatrice Prior (Woodley) is revealed to be ‘divergent’, meaning she demonstrates several traits. Divergents are seen as a threat to society as they cannot be controlled, though told to hide her divergence and just stay with Abnegation, Beatrice goes against her family’s wishes to pick Dauntless (and also decides to call herself Tris). So begins a rigorous training exercise as Beatrice tries to hide her true personality traits for her own safety while maybe having to use them after discovering a greater threat to the peace of society.
“OK, so bear with me…”
That phrase we perhaps use when trying to explain some ludicrous idea or concept that may make sense in our heads, but when trying to explain it to others we realise it is a tad ridiculous and so we ask that said listener to bear with us. Well it feels like every time we get some expositional voice over from Shailene Woodley’s Tris she should start it with that exact phrase; the premise that the narrative is based on is certainly less than solid. Maybe the books explain a lot more and it makes more sense in those, well if that is the case then good for the book, but I am reviewing the film. The screenwriters make a choice of what to include and not to include in the film and the script’s explanation of this apparent dystopian future society is less than convincing.
The film seems not to care too much for its flaws and glaring plot holes, really detracting from any potential involvement with the narrative that is based in this world. Sometimes the ability to essentially multitask or just be human is portrayed like it is a superpower, and in my view it is a real struggle to get over this slightly ridiculous premise.
Of course a ridiculous premise is all more forgivable if we are given some characters that are truly memorable that we can relate to and emotionally invest in. Well unfortunately that does not really happen either with our protagonist’s journey being so painfully predictable. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a predictable protagonist journey as that is hardly a rarity in films, but it is how it is done that matters. Every scene and development can be seen before it happens, making those scenes and the really clichéd dialogue a little cringe worthy to watch at times. Likewise the characters themselves are less than memorable; all ticking generic conventions along the way in their strange costumes, and naturally all looking like models. The character of Tris may arguably represent the relatable themes of someone discovering who they truly are and not letting society dictate who they should be blah, blah, blah… However this is written in a seemingly cynical way and Tris’ journey is not particularly engaging.
In the lead role Shailene Woodley is solid enough, but here delivery of certain key lines seems misjudged, leading to unintentional titters more than air punching moments of satisfaction. However with the script being quite flat, that is not wholly her fault. Though with three more films confirmed in the pipeline it is a role that she may hopefully grow in. The rest of the young cast are solid enough, but as well as all looking the same are not especially memorable. Though as per usual Jai Courtney is awful, further begging the question as to why he gets acting roles. The older cast members are decent enough when the plot requires them to give Divergent a bit more emotional substance (particularly Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn as Tris’ parents), but Kate Winslet is on total autopilot in her role as a slightly shady member of Erudite.
Though it has many flaws, thanks mainly to Neil Burger’s visual flair Divergent is never less than watchable, his eye for solid visual set pieces making the film’s slow, slightly tedious and predictable first two thirds far more watchable. It never grips or engages, but always manages to entertain. The main plot finally becomes the focus in the film’s final third, but so much happens so quickly in the final thirty minutes of the very bloated 139 minute running time that it is hard to keep up or indeed forgive some glaring plot holes and narrative conveniences. Still it does provide a solid but less than spectacular foundation for the rest of the franchise, and there is certainly genuine intrigue as to what they do next. Here’s hoping Insurgent (due in 2015) fulfils its potential.
Yet another unspectacular addition to the surplus of young adult franchises; Divergent certainly suffers from origin story and setup problems with its slightly unconvincing concept and the generic and predictable character arc of its protagonist. However a solid performance from Woodley and Berger’s flashy visuals make it never less than watchable, with enough to provide a genuinely intriguing setup for the sequels.